Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: GURPS

A +1 Sword in GURPS 4e

Nothing is easy in fourth edition GURPS. Seriously, if you had told me in 1986 that everything in the game would one day be like the fireproof steel belted radial solid tires of Car Wars, I doubt I would ever have gotten on board.

But, yes. You can build a classical “+1 magic sword” with GURPS 4e. I’m not sure why you would, exactly. But you can. So we will!

First, the modifiers:

  • Breakable, DR 12, SM -3, -25%
  • Can be stolen, -20%
  • Mana Sensitive, -10%
  • Melee Attack, Reach 1, ST-Based, +75%
  • Reliable, +1, +5%
  • Unique, -25%

These net out to an even zero, oddly enough. An impaling attack for just one point of damage comes out to 8 x .25 = 2 points total. With an alternative attack with swing damage, cutting attack for exactly one point comes out to 7 x .25 / 5 which will round up to 1 cost point in cost. Total cost is three character points.

So in 4th edition GURPS, you can have a magic sword that gets +1 to to-hit and also plus one to damage whether you swing it or thrust it. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but you can get +1 to to-hit via 4 points sunk into a weapon skill. You can get +1 to damage (or better probably) by sinking 5 points into Striking ST if you are too cheap to pay for the regular ST attribute. If I did the build right, the magic weapon here is coming in here at one-third of the cost!

But what about the other aspect of magic weapons in rpgs– the ability to attack monsters that are impervious to normal weapons? Well, I think that is not an attribute of the sword, but really more of a feature of the monster. There is no one way to do this in GURPS.

The easiest way to do this is DR that is limited to non-magical attacks. But this won’t work as desired. The single point of “magic” damage will get past it, but the rest of the attack damage coming from the character’s swing and thrust rating will still get absorbed by the DR. THIS IS VERY STRANGE. Another way to do this is to beef up the creature’s hit points but also add a vulnerability to Magic. However again, I suppose the wounding modifier will only be applied to one point of magic damage that penetrates DR. So this still does not cut it.

Maybe combining both will come close to modeling it. DR 20 vs non-magical attacks and then a vulnerability to magical attacks. Non-magical attacks would be “very common”, I presume. But then… somehow… magical attacks would also count as “very common”. THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME. But whatever. So, a DR of 20 vs non-magical attacks costs 80 points. The vulnerability to magical attacks being given a wounding modifier of x4 saves 80 points. This comes out to a zero point feature.

Against such creatures, this dinky magic sword will be causing six or eight points of damage per hit depending on whether it is swung or thrust. But even a one die magic spell will obliterate them. Kind of weird. But I think it grows on you after a while.

Pike Power II: Muskets vs. Spears

I tell ya, you look at something like second edition GURPS and you would think that there can’t be that much to it. Steve Jackson goes out of his way to make this easy to learn and he definitely intends for this to be streamlined in play, nevertheless there is a large amount of game here.

First up, the figures:

  • Roman — ST 13, DX 12, IQ 9, HT 9, Shortsword-14 (parry 7, 2d-1 cutting or 1d impaling), Spear-12 (parry 6, 1d+2 impaling), Spear Throwing-13 (1d+3 impaling), Sheld-15 (block 5), Chain Mail (PD 3/1, DR 4/2), Shield (PD2), Medium Encumbrance 59 lbs., Basic Speed 5.25, Move 3 (dodge 3). [50 points]
  • Musketeer — ST 11, DX 14, IQ 9, HT 9, Musket-16 (3d6 crushing), Fencing (parry 10×2, 1d+1 cutting or1d impaling), Light Encumbrance 27 lbs., Basic Speed 5.75, Move 4 (dodge 4). [47 points]
  • Pikeman — St 12, DX 13, IQ 9, HT 9, Pike-14* (1+1 impaling), Fencing-14* (parry 9×2, 1d+3 cutting or 1d impaling), Half Plate (PD 4, DR 5, skills are reduced by one), Heavy Encumbrance 78 lbs. (but raise move and dodge by one if pike is dropped), Basic Speed 5.5, Move 2** (Dodge 2**)

Now, I haven’t wrung every last tactic out of these rules, but I think we have roughly 80% of the combat rules down. The way this thing will shake out depends on mostly on the dice. But the favorable fencing skill parries combined with the toughness of the plate mail mean the Austrians have this one in the bag. Here are the key moves broken out:

  • I assume the Austrians had a chance to aim for one second before their opening musket shot on the first turn. Whatever the range penalties are in 2nd edition GURPS, I don’t think it is going to be worse than the misfire that occurs on 13+. With DR 4 on the Romans, they are going to need a damage roll of 14 or better to kill a Roman outright, 13 to knock them unconscious once they fail an HT roll, and then at least 9 to knock them down and stun them until they can make an HT roll.
  • If the Roman spear-chuckers survive, they will want to take out the unarmored musketeers. Chances hitting will probably be around 12 or less on 3d6 if they can take a moment to aim. The musketeers’ dodge is only on 4 or less due to lack of armor, so a hit is fairly likely. With 1+3 impaling damage and no armor DR to burn through, the chance to kill outright will need just a 2 or better on the d6 damage roll. (Doubling the 5 points of penetration damage to 10 for the impaling weapon takes the musketeer to negative hit-points.)
  • Any Roman moving within three hexes of our pikemen will get to find out how the stop thrust rules work. The pikemen hit on 14 or less on 3d6 and the Romans block on 8 or less. If this hits home, automatic max damage will automatically kill the Roman with seven points of damage penetrating the chainmail with 5 and then doubling up to 10– any successful hit drops them to -1 hit points. (Parrying has a better chance of defending here but it also has a chance of breaking the Roman’s short sword.)
  • Both the Pikemen and the Musketeers will want to switch to sabers after these opening attacks. They might as well eat the -3 penalty for targeting the vitals so they can get triple damage when they penetrate the Roman chainmail. They will be needing 13 or less or 11 or less respectively while the Romans will be parrying on a 10 or less. A damage roll of 3 will do 3 points of damage, 4 will do six and have a chance of knockdown, 5 will probably knock the Roman unconscious, and 6 will kill them outright.
  • The plate mail on the pikemen is a disaster for the Romans. The extra PD applied to the parry means they successfully defend on 14 or less. The fencing skill means they get two such defenses a turn if they are outnumbered. And the DR of 5 means that that 2d-1 damage roll will have to be seven or better to get through the armor at all.
  • The fencers have one particularly nasty tactic. They can opt to retreat on their opponent’s turn when he rolls a hit, then on their own turn they can select a wait maneuver so that they can perform a stop thrust when the Roman tries to follow-up with a step and attack maneuver.

What’s the final verdict here?

The Roman player will rightly insist on the advanced armor system where each hit location has a different defense value. He will also insist on moving to 4th edition where both Passive Defense and Stop Thrusts are dialed back. Finally, he will want for everyone on his side taking a moment to open things up with a spear chucked at a random hit location at the start of these types of fights. (Thrown weapons are just too danged fun!)

The problems with the scenario are just acute enough that if I was going to play too much more I would bite the bullet and cut apart some of my Cardboard Hero sets to get more variety with the figures in play. On the other hand, this is not so intoxicatingly fun that I can’t wait a little while for additional figures to get painted up before trying something that is a little different from this. Of course, the biggest mark against GURPS has always been too many options for me to know what to do with it. Being limited to playing only what I have painted figures for has been the key to me finally getting this game on the table in a substantial way!

It is a bit of a commitment, though. Of course, when you’ve spent many hours painting the figures, taking an hour to get the character points spent doesn’t register as being a whole lot of time. Taking another hour to make sure you are using the rules correctly is a no-brainer once you are this far in, too. And for sure, enough mistakes will be made at this stage that you can expect to play through the same scenario multiple times! (Heck, I can still read through the rules again to make sure I am not missing something that can solve what I think the problems are!!)

So yeah, there is pretty much zero chance that kid me would have ever gotten this far. And adult me probably would not have bothered if he wasn’t dead set on getting play out of the miniatures he spent so much time working up.

Score another one for the 1/72 scale figure kits!

Miniatures Update: Austrian Musketeers and Pikemen

I have just wrapped up one complete sprue from the Zvezda 1/72 Austrian Musketeers and Pikemen set. A few notes here for those that are following along:

  • They look great on the table. When used as a single mass unit and viewed at normal gaming distances, you can’t see any of the mistakes and the mediocre paint job doesn’t even register. All you can see is the AWESOME and the sense of a throng of bloodthirsty marauders annihilating their opponents.
  • The 5/8th inch square bases specified by Gygax in Swords & Spells is pure win. I see a lot of other people doing something completely different with their 1/72 kits, but I wouldn’t trade this for any of them.
  • It will be months before I can run larger battles with several units of this type. Until then it is either The Fantasy Trip, second edition GURPS, or 4th edition GURPS for the man-to-man level of play.
  • Speaking of GURPS, it appears that this vision for accommodating many different historical eras with a single rule set goes back further than you would think. The 1981 release of Game Design: Theory and Practice sure looks an awful lot like the early GURPS ads that James Maliszewski has been posting lately!
  • And speaking of early GURPS products, seeing these guys on the table you can’t help but wonder what would happen to this unit of 140 Austrians if they got Banestormed into Steve Jackson’s world of Yrth. What would they do while they still had ammunition? And how would they adapt once they ran out?
  • Back in the day, being able to mix diverse historical units in the same games was something at the forefront of Steve Jackson’s mind. But this very obvious and extremely attractive game design goal appears to have disappeared from the general consciousness of gamers today. What happened?!

I have to say, the 1/72 kits really are the way to go. For one thing, they look way better than a whole lot of lead figures I’ve seen, especially those from wayback. Some of the more recent kits are quite good. And it turns out that quantity has a quality all its own with these things. Something like the old Fantasy Lords blister packs would never have had a unit of pikemen like this– and they certainly wouldn’t have encouraged you to think in terms of actual armies.

But the fact is, roleplaying wouldn’t exist without the titanic clash of armies. And D&D in particular cannot be understood apart from them.

On the Greatness of Second Edition GURPS

I never did play as much GURPS as I wanted back when it first game out. Car Wars, BattleTech, Axis & Allies, and Samurai Swords pretty well owned the tabletop and computer games like Starglider II, Empire, and Populous soaked up a lot of the rest of my free time back then. Looking back at it again recently as I dip into it to make games for my newly-painted historical figures I am struck by just how great the package really was.

Regardless of what you were looking for in an rpg, GURPS was angling to do it better than everyone else. As just one example of this, see the chapter headings from the referee booklet:

If you want more tactical detail and realism, you can add some (or all) of the advanced rules. If you want a quick, simple combat system for roleplaying adventures, you may want to stay with the Basic Combat System…. The Advanced Combat System is intended for gamers who want more “realism” in their roleplaying. It can also be played as a stand-alone boardgame of man-to-man combat.

GURPS Basic Set Book Two: Adventuring (1986)

Steve Jackson knew these rules would be dense and maybe a bit of a challenge to master. The section on Basic Combat is six pages long and concludes with an exhortation to “get out there and fight.” The idea was for most people to stick with the basic rules and then only adding in the advanced rules if and when they became needful. But people that decided to go all-in? They would discover that they had purchased the spiritual heir of Metagaming’s Melee and that nearly every conceivable problem that that venerable microgame had was now dealt with substantially. (Man, I wish someone had pointed this out to me sooner!!)

Another selling point that is touched upon more than once is this very simple idea that the character generation rules “let you do all your calculations before play starts”– the complexity of the game was intended to be separated out from what you actually ended up doing at the table. And if you wanted to just play the game without learning any of that? No problem! Just use the four sample characters included in the basic set!

At some point this posture went away. The guys in control of the game line just stopped caring what people outside of the fold wanted or thought. This is highlighted by the decision to forgo playtesting for the all-new, all-color fourth edition:

To stay on schedule, we had to forgo a public playtest (sorry!) and ask a group of staff, former staff, freelance writers, and senior MIBs to review our draft. Review it they did. For months, David and I had bursting inboxes! We made a lot of adjustments and plugged a lot of holes. It was nearly as much work as the text revision, but it was important to both of us that the assembled experts genuinely liked the end product.

GURPS Fourth Edition: Designer’s Notes

What did they miss out by not talking to the kind of people that might end up buying the game, much less blind testing it? I know I am about 20 years too late to the party here, but here’s a couple of things that I think are disastrous for fourth edition.

The iconic characters are the most obvious problem. They are orders of magnitude more complicated than the original sample characters and I cannot imagine creating things for the game with this level of detail. The martial arts exemplar Sora uses an even dozen techniques on her character sheet. The elf, vampire, and robot have elaborate templates, and what’s more the robot has both an alternate form and a “weapons pod” that is comprised of two “custom” attacks which are by themselves more complicated than the typical 100-point character of old. To understand what these templates even mean, you have to look at half a dozen different pages in the Characters book alone. So much for seperating the complexity of the game out from what you actually do at the table.

The iconic characters are a tour de force of what can be done out of the box with Basic Set Fourth Edition, sure. But here’s the kicker. You can’t even use those characters in a learning game because they omit the back side of the character sheet which would have included the stats for their weapons worked out for you already. Certainly, there was no solitaire adventure to let you put one of these monster characters through their paces nor was there a short adventure included to help you see what playing a game with characters this powerful and this diverse should be like.

Similarly, the loss of the old sidebar format made learning everything else that much harder. With the second edition set, you could quickly pick up the basics. And if there was an odd special case rule, you might not remember exactly how it worked at the table but you would definitely be aware of its existence and general location. Meanwhile in fourth edition, something like the stop thrust rule is merely hidden away in the section on the wait maneuver and is not even referenced in the index. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought given to how much flipping around you’re going to have to do in order to run even a straightforward battle.

The net result of all of these things is to imply that the game is not really meant to be played. Rather, it is designed to cater to people that like to design things with the GURPS rules or else put together articles of Pyramid magazine. Which is a pity, because I really do think there is a good game buried inside all those hardback books. And though I really doubt there will ever be a fifth edition of these game rules, if there is I truly hope that it will take its cues from Steve Jackson’s masterpiece second edition box set and try to do more for the people that aren’t already fluent the game.

But I do enjoy the second edition GURPS set a lot more than I expected. I recall at the time of its release it seemed extremely incomplete due to its not having any but the most generic rpg rules. I wish I could go back in time and tell my high school self just how well it worked as a stand-alone boardgame of medieval melee battles! With the advent of the “tech” books for the system, this has only gotten more true for the line as a whole and I am baffled that you don’t tend to hear people raving over this aspect of the system.

Pike Power

Well, now we have to know.

What happens when guys armed with short swords and shields charge into a few guys wielding pikes?

Using second edition GURPS for this, we’ll let the figures all have ST 14, weapon skill 16, HT 10, and move/dodge 6. In vintage GURPS, a weapon has a 1-in-3 chance of breaking any time it parries something that weighs three or more times its weight– and this is the exact case the Romans find themselves in here! Maybe they need to stick with their free dodge.

Roman chainmail only gets a PD of 1 vs. impaling attacks. With the shield adding two to that, the modified dodge roll is 9 or less. The chainmail only provides a DR of 2 against impaling attacks.

So, the first Roman is just going to take a Move maneuver to wade into the pikemen. The lead pikeman hits with a 9 and the Roman fails his defense roll with a 12. According to the “Stop Thrust” rule on page B101, this does automatic maximum damage which is eight here. Reducing it by the chainmail DR drops it to 6, but impaling damage doubles this to 12. Dropping below zero health in classic GURPS results in automatically falling unconscious.

So, now the second Roman steps over his buddy’s body and Moves into the next pikeman’s range. He rolls a sixteen which only just barely hits. The Roman dodges with an 8 and moves into range of the third pikeman. He hits with and and the Roman fails his dodge with a 16. This “Stop Thrust” attack knocks ANOTHER Roman unconscious.

The third Roman can simply move up in front of the lead Pikeman who opts to ready his sword. The middle pikeman uses a ready maneuver to change the reach of his pike from 3 to 2. The pikeman in the back attacks, but the Roman successfully dodges with a roll of 7. The Roman attacks the lead pikeman, but passive defense of 4 of the plate mail makes it possible to dodge with a roll of 12 or less.

On turn three, the Roman is attacked three times. The first does two points of damage. The second is dodged. The attack with the saber is a critical success– result is “normal damage and the foe is knocked unconscious. Damage is not enough to penetrate the DR, but it doesn’t matter, anyway.

I see that according to Steve, the plate armor would have reduced the skill of the pikemen by 1, causing one miss and ruining the critical hit. We’ll just say that their skill was 17 to make up for it.

Either way, charging a group of pikemen appears to be suicide. (Heck, I forgot to reduce dodge targets by encumbrance levels– and I also forgot to allow the pikemen in the back to make all-out attacks when they didn’t take the wait maneuver.)

I have to say, though, while I am really unfamiliar with the nuances of second edition GURPS, Steve Jackson’s commitment to having a really well laid out and indexed rule book paid off tonight. Everything I was looking for could be found quickly and I did not have to flip around a lot or sort out “easy to play incorrectly” type rules like are in 4th edition. (And note that “stop thrust” is in the index of second edition but not fourth. Real GURPS wins again!)