Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Escape From the Underworld

I'm making long-term plans for a campaign during this December's get-together with my friends, and I need as many "Escape From the Underworld" myths and stories as I can come up with.  Most of the ones I'm familiar with are from Greek myth:


The legendary musician Orpheus descended into Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice. He was allowed to, with the caveat that he couldn't look back until he got back to the mortal world.  He failed and thus failed his quest:

So, a quest to the Underworld should probably have an unusal or arbitrary failure condition, but one known to the questers.


When Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his bride, her mother went to the Underworld to get her back.  Persephone had eaten six pomegranite seeds (or was tricked into eating them, I've read different versions,)  and was required to stay with Hades six months out of the year.

From this I take the idea that you shouldn't eat or drink anything while in the Underworld: bring food and water.


Hercules had to kidnap Cerberus ("Spot," no, seriously,) the hound of Hades as one of his labors.  While he was there he found his friend Theseus glued to a chair, and ripped him loose, leaving Theseus' rear end "behind."  

So: treasures and old friends not directly related to the quest at hand are there to be had, but they may bear a cost.


I also found this page, Myth Encyclopedia: Underworld, which has a few I'm unfamiliar with.  I need to track a longer version of each down (Mulian rescuing his mother from Buddhist Hell seems really interesting.)

If you're aware of any others, feel free to post about it in the comments.  I'm really looking for inspiration for this one and any help is appreciated.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Using Books From Other Systems

I occasionally use material from other systems in my GURPS games.  I've never been one to use published adventures, so those are almost always nearly useless to me.  It's hard for me to predict what I will find helpful, but books loaded with statistics and such for other systems won't usually cut it, as I don't try to do direct conversions.  I use monsters and such from AD&D quite a bit, but I don't take much info from the system itself, I just rely on the description and listed abilities to get my imagination flowing.

Lately, and to my surprise, one of the most useful books in my repertoire has been AD&D's Oriental Adventures.  There are Yearly and Monthly Events charts in there that are incredibly useful for coming up with an outline for any location the PCs will spend much time in.  They require a good bit of interpretation, especially as they're intended for a more Eastern setting and mine is decidedly Western in tone.  Still, here are the yearly event results for Arcte, the town my PCs are currently occupying.  I'm only revealing the chart up to September as that's the in-game month.

I didn't roll a Yearly Event, as I had something in mind for that already.



March: Major Fire, Cold Weather Delays Planting
April: VIP Visit
May: No Event
June: Injustice
July: Bandit Activity
August: Marriage
September: Notorious Criminal

The Winter of 1077 was unusually cold, stretching on into April of 1078.  Planting was delayed so the harvest will be terrible, probably depleting the food stores and leading to popular unrest.  In addition, a major fire in the Library of Arcte destroys valuable texts.  Note: the fire was Essential Flame.

A Kentrian Magistrate arrives in April to present gifts to the Goddess Ea.  Votaries, perfumes, and attractive slaves.

May is calm, but as summer arrives the growing unrest leads to questionable arrests of foreign merchants and traders.  Locals turn to banditry in the roads and woods free of the influence of the Blasted Plains.

The al-Mari and al-Hans tribes arrange a marriage of heirs.  The al-Mari heir will be sheikh of both tribes when he reaches 40.

In September a thief locals call the Crimson Flame begins robbing wealthy traders, but evades capture.


I thought this turned out pretty good.  It only took about a half-hour's work to interpret and ended up being really inspirational.  I have organizations and events planned out in fairly broad terms on a large scale, which makes fitting this stuff in pretty simple.  There are some other charts like this in Harn and some of the new OSR books, but to be honest I find the ones in Harn too low-fantasy and dull, and the OSR ones often way too specific.  I prefer something loose and easy to interpret, which this provides to my satisfaction.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Review: GURPS Powers: The Weird

Last Thursday's release was GURPS Powers: The Weird, which covers "weird powers: the capabilities of exotic and mysterious supers, of cosmic entities, of alien beings who have slipped in through the cracks in reality... and of human explorers who have gone there and come back changed."

There are three chapters after the intro.  The first is "Weird Science," which covers the necessary Traits.  It also introduces a new variation of Styles in Weird-science Styles, which I found very interesting.  Styles are being used in a variety of interesting ways.  I've briefly considered creating Alchemy Styles, using the GURPS Magic Alchemy system, but I haven't had any luck with fleshing them out.  Seeing this makes me want to take another stab at that.

Another thing that occurred to me after reading the first advantage description in this chapter was using one-shot Gadgeteer to create AD&D style artifacts.  Gadgeteer, with "Cosmic, Items need not obey local laws of physics, +50%"  could certainly cover that.

Perks, Skills, and Techniques are also covered, with the Techniques section being really interesting with a good number of new ones.

The second chapter is "Realms and Phenomena," covering Other Places, astral realms, hyperspace, and the Cabalistic structure of worlds among other things.  This is a fairly short chapter with lots of good bits and food for thought for weird-worldbuilding.

The final chapter is "Powers," and this is the really meaty part of the book.  A couple of powers listed were neat, Logos being the real winner for me. With a bit of tweaking it could handle the abilities of the Bene Gesserit of  the Dune series perfectly, and this is the first time I've seen a power write-up that really could.  Noumena and Metamateriality were also good enough to deserve specific mention.

Final Grade: A-.  This book contains solidly built styles and excellent powers, as well as evocative descriptions of the abilities that had me thinking about ways to use this in my ongoing Fantasy games, even though they aren't really thematic for that.  Anyone who likes the GURPS Powers framework should definitely pick this one up.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

GURPSDay: Danger Sense

There have been a few posts this week about Danger Sense, so I thought I'd add my 2 cents worth.

Danger Sense: Think more Intuitively (Insidious GURPS Planning)
My Danger Sense is Tingling (Gaming Ballistic)
Gamemaster's Guidepost: GMing Danger Sense (Ravens N' Pennies)

My Thoughts on Danger Sense

I wish my players took it more, to be honest.  I try to have capable foes act like capable foes, which means that ambushes, traps, and other sudden surprises are fairly common in my games.  Danger Sense really takes an edge off of these, and I think eases the tension level a bit.  I don't really oppose that, as I have any number of ways to make the players sweat, so taking the edge off of a threatening situation doesn't bother me. It's also a  15 point advantage based off Perception, so it's a bit of an investment and a PC should really get their points worth.

I do have a bit of a problem at times remembering someone has it, or forgetting to roll for it when appropriate.  This is especially bad in this case as it's really a roll I have to make myself as the GM.  Nothing can put your players in alert mode like saying "Make a Perception roll."  I need to come up with a visual aid of some sort to hang on my GM's screen to remind me of it.

As far as the "Metagame Points" that Doug Cole and Christopher Rice bring up in their posts, I'm not as much of a fan.  I've been using Buying Successes for a couple of years now, and I'm starting to think that they just don't suit my style as a GM.  That's a bit strange because I've always allowed retroactive Luck rolls, but for some reason I find an expensive and time-limited advantage less irksome than a cheap "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Short Review: GURPS After the End 1

So, in an earlier post I was discussing repurposing the radiation rules to represent magical contamination.  Who could have predicted that GURPS After the End 1: Wastelanders, the most recent release, would have something I can immediately use?  The simplified Radiation Points system, as well as Mutations and Freakishness, do what I was going for.  With a bit of tweaking for flavor they'll be exactly what I want.  Kudos to PK on this one.

It's an excellent book. The templates are well-balanced but focused enough to be good at their core purposes, which is more of a challenge at 150 points than the 250+ in the other themed series.  I think dropping Wealth in this series is a good idea; paying points for equipment directly makes more sense. After all, there would be no Jobs in the "40 hours a week" sense and Wealth interacts with and relies on jobs to a great degree.

The "grab and play" series (Dungeon Fantasy, Action, and Monster Hunters) have been really good in general. For me, Dungeon Fantasy is the best, but if this series lives up to this strong start it could be as good.  I know there's at least one more planned and I hope it spawns a decent sized series, as this is a genre GURPS has missed because Steve Jackson had dibs on writing it (GURPS Survivors, anyway).  Makes me wonder why he dropped that objection, though he hasn't written for GURPS in a while so that likely plays a part.

Final Grade: A.  It's definitely a recommended buy for any GURPS GM with any interest in post-apoc gaming.  Like most GURPS books it has things in it that can be mined for other genres as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

No Magical Style This Week

I actually ran out of completed styles and didn't realize it until I was looking for one to post.  I've got a few I'm inspired to finish up so I should have one to post next Thursday.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Gamer's Eulogy

My friend and gaming buddy Al was killed during a robbery at his shop this past weekend.  It was a real shock, and one of those terrible reminders that you should cherish the time you spend with friends and family.  I've known him for almost twenty years and he played in a number of my GURPS campaigns over that time.   As a geeky send-off, here are some of his most memorable characters.


Named for the Dragonlance character, Tanis was a half-elf fighter/fire-mage in the longest and most successful campaign I ever ran.  A decent enough fellow most of the time, but he was power-hungry.  That party ended up with the demon prince Pazuzu as an Enemy, but Tanis bargained his way out of that one (for himself, not the rest of the group.)  He even had a demonic familiar for about fifteen minutes, but the party Aura'd it, killed it, and warned him not to do that again.

Al played Tanis again in a reunion campaign (me and my oldest gaming buddies get together to game one week a year) a couple of years ago.  I use old PCs as NPCs for flavor, so since the last campaign he played in, Tanis found himself living on the Fire Plane, divorced, and armed with the "Chill Blade," one of my gameworld's Runeswords (exceptionally powerful weapons inspired by Moorcock, pretty obviously).  This was in a powerful group of Elf PCs that had been pulled out of retirement.  He ended up losing the Chill Blade to a Banish spell (it's native to the Fire Plane and can be sent back) and swore to get it back and revenge himself on those who took it from him.

Half-demon woman

I can't remember this character's name, and I think I lost my notes on this one.  The party she was in had three half-demon children of the same demon-lord in it.  Al's character was easily the worst of the bunch in a party formed mostly of neutral-to-evil characters.  I don't want to get to far into the details, but she was pretty darn evil.

At one point in the campaign Steve brought in another character, a Priest of Luck who had Ridiculous Luck that only worked on his allies, who rolled a critical success on an Aura on Al's character WITH THE FIRST ROLL THAT CHARACTER EVER MADE, thus revealing her demonic taint (and therefore that of her brothers) and changing the course of the campaign.

Sarig the Drider Swordsman

Al and Del made monster characters in another of our reunion campaigns.  Del played a Manticore and Al played a Drider swordsman.  Sadly, they were a bit rusty, forgot how important DR is in GURPS, and ended up being killed in their ambush of an adventuring party.  Granted, they did manage to kill four out of six before they went.

Usif the Duergar Bounty Hunter

Al's replacement character in that campaign was a Duergar bounty hunter.  The most memorable moments of that campaign came shortly after he showed up; this party of Underdark dwellers decided to hit the surface without any Survival skills and almost ended up starving to death on the side of a mountain in winter (best quote: "Let's go back to the Underdark where it's safe!")


Al was a good man and a good friend.  He had a natural likability that meant he could game with us, hang with his frat brothers, or even party with a bunch of rednecks in the same evening without missing a beat.  He always had fun when we gamed together, and other people enjoyed him being there.  I'm really going to miss him at our next gathering.  Rest in peace, my friend.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Magical Style: Illusionism

The Illusionists

Rivals: The Grey Philosophers.

Illusionists teach that all life is an illusion, that there is no objective reality, and that therefore the highest form of good is in the pursuit of pleasure. They believe the purpose of life is to enjoy oneself and to help others have a good time. Many Illusionists are seekers after enlightenment, but in Illusionism this is no object of quiet meditation, but is rather a drug-soaked, alcohol-powered, and frankly naughty affair.

This has earned them a reputation as abusers of drugs, as well as for sexual excess, and they are considered unserious at best by many other schools of magic. The Grey Philosophers, in particular, hate them.  The Illusionists believe this is sheer jealousy as an Illusionist is almost guaranteed an invitation to the sort of party a Grey-robe is never invited to, and return the hate with mockery.

Illusionists have no real structure to their group, and teach in a master and student relationship much more casual than in most other magical traditions.  The teacher holds himself as more of a guide than an overseer.


13 points

Prerequisites: IQ 11 and Magery 1.

Illusionism teaches that the Material World is but the dream of a sleeping god, and doing magic is doing no more than changing the environment of a dream. Thus, all magic is inherently illusionary, and a student can exceed the limitations of the physical by embracing this. At its core, Illusionism is a philosophical Hedonism school, teaching that pleasure is the utmost good.  In their view, they cannot be certain that we are real, but they can be certain that we feel.

Illusionists are also skilled masters of dream magic, and they also have knowledge of the less supernatural techniques of dream manipulation. The "lesser dreams" of the night are held to be most instructive.
There is some controversy over several spells in the standard repertoire; for example, many Illusionists will neither learn nor teach Emotion Control, as they feel forcing someone to feel "joy" or "happiness" runs counter to authentic experience, while others are of the opinion that since everything but sensation is illusory spell-initiated happiness is just as valid as any other form. Such arguments among practitioners are seldom settled quickly.

Required Skills: Carousing, Dreaming, Pharmacy (Herbal), Philosophy (Illusionism), Teaching, Thaumatology.
Required Spells: Complex Illusion, Control Illusion, Detect Illusion, Dispel Illusion, Perfect Illusion, Simple Illusion.
Perks: Area Spell Mastery (Any Illusion), Improvised Items, Intuitive Illusionist, Kill Switch (Any), Mystic’s Stupor, Reduced Footprint (Any), Secret Knowledge (Hidden Lore: Dream Lore), Secret Material (Soma), Secret Spells (Initiative, Journey to the Dreamlands, Zimbardo's Simulated Prison).
Secret Spells: Initiative, Journey to the Dreamlands, Zimbardo's Simulated Prison.

Optional Traits

Attributes: Increased IQ and HT.
Advantages: Allure, Charisma, Energy Reserve, Illuminated, Recover Energy.
Disadvantages: Alcoholism, Compulsive Carousing, Impulsiveness, Reputation (Sexually Excessive or Hedonist).
Skills: Area Knowledge (Dreamlands), Artist (Illusion), Astronomy, Autohypnosis, Body Language, Erotic Art, Hidden Lore (Dream Lore), Knot-Tying, Mathematics (Applied), Meditation, Sex Appeal.

Spell List

Analyze Magic
Identify Spell
Detect Magic
Body of Air
Shape Air
Complex Illusion and Illusion Disguise
Complex Illusion
Simple Illusion
Control Illusion
Perfect Illusion
Magery 1
Create Air
Purify Air
Create Animal
IQ 12, Magery 2, and Create Object
Create Mount
Create Animal
Create Object
Magery 1 and 8 Illusionism spells
Create Servant
IQ 12, Magery 3, and Create Object
Cure Hangover
Minor Healing or Resist Pain
Detect Illusion
Simple Illusion
Detect Magic
Dispel Creation
Control Creation
Dispel Illusion
Control Illusion
Complex Illusion and Illusion Disguise
Divination (Oneiromancy)
History and six Illusionism spells
Dream Projection
Dream Sending
Dream Sending
Dream Viewing
Emotion Control
Mental Stun
Ethereal Body
Magery 3 and Body of Air
IQ 12+
Magery 1 and Foolishness
Six Illusionism spells
Identify Spell
Detect Magic
Illusion Disguise
Simple Illusion
Illusion Shell
Simple Illusion
Images of the Past
Magery 2, History, and Simple Illusion
Simple Illusion
Magery 1, Independence, and six Illusionism spells
Journey to the Dreamlands*
Magery 3 and fifteen Illusionism spells
Know True Shape
Magery 1 and Aura or Detect Illusion
Lend Energy
Magery 1
Mass Sleep
IQ 13+ and Sleep
Mental Stun
Perfect Illusion
Complex Illusion
Phantom Wall
Perfect Illusion
Planar Visit (Dreamlands)
Dream Projection
Eight Illusionism spells
Purify Air
Resist Pain*
Magery 2 and six Illusionism spells
See Secrets
Seeker and Aura
IQ 13 and six Illusionism spells
Shape Air
Create Air
Share Energy
Lend Energy
Simple Illusion
IQ 11+
True Seeing
Magery 3 and six Illusionism spells
Magery 1
Zimbardo's Simulated Prison*
Magery 3 and twelve Illusionism spells.
*: This is a Secret Spell.
†: This spell’s prerequisites have been altered.

Unique Spells

Cure Hangover

Does what it says on the tin: instantly cures any pain or nausea from excessive consumption of alcohol.  This isn't exactly a Secret Spell, but only Illusionists tend to know it.

This is ordinarily a Healing spell, but Illusionists learn it as if it were a Body Control spell.

Duration: Instant.
Cost: 3.
Time to Cast: 5 seconds (a.k.a. "Oh, God, why so long I'm gonna be sick this sucks I can't concentrate why didn't I learn Delay").
Prerequisites: Either Minor Healing or Resist Pain.


As Blur but shifts the subject's image in space a bit as opposed to blurring his outline.

This is an Illusion and Creation spell.

Duration, Cost, and Time to Cast: As Blur.
Prerequisistes: Illusion Disguise and Complex Illusion.

True Seeing

The subject gains the See Invisible advantage with the True Sight enhancement: his vision can penetrate all magical deceptions, camouflage, disguises, and illusions.  This is resisted by any affected spells.

This is an Illusion and Creation spell.

Duration: One minute.
Cost: 8, half to maintain.
Time to Cast: 3 seconds.
Prerequisites: Magery 3, Detect Illusion, and Perfect Illusion.

Secret Spells

Journey to the Dreamlands
Special; Automatic Resistance

As Plane Shift and Plane Shift (Other), but only directly to the Dreamlands. Note that this transports the caster's physical body, and can thus be considerably more dangerous than Planar Visit.  Note that this spell may be used as a basis for casting Create Gate.

This is a Communication & Empathy spell.

Cost: 12.
Time to Cast: 5 seconds.
Prerequisites (Standard): Magery 3, the Dreaming skill, and fifteen Communication and Empathy spells including Dream Projection.
Prerequisites (Illusionism): Magery 3 and fifteen Illusionism spells.

Zimbardo's Simulated Prison (VH)
Regular; Resisted by Will

The soul of a victim who fails to resist is imprisoned in a prison in the Dreamlands.  The subject's body falls into a coma (see Incapacitating Conditions, p. B429) without getting the initial HT roll to come out.  The Awaken spell and similar countermeasures cannot restore the subject unless the soul is in some way restored to the body first, which will probably involve an extra-planar prison break.  If the subject's body dies, the soul remains imprisoned and he cannot be Resurrected until the soul is freed.

This is a Communication and Empathy spell.

Duration: Instant, but the soul is imprisoned permanently.
Cost: 20.
Time to Cast: 3 seconds.
Prerequisites (Standard): Magery 3, Dream Projection, and Nightmare.
Prerequisites (Illusionism): Magery 3 and twelve Illusionism spells.

Secret Materials


Soma is a herbal concoction, gathered using Pharmacy (Herbal) or Naturalist.  It helps the user attain mastery of his dreams as well as facilitating dream-magic.  Make a roll against either of the required skills at -3; you gain one dose of Soma per degree of success.  A dose gives +2 to Dreaming skill for a night's sleep, or may be used as a Manastone providing 2 FP per dose to a dream-related spell.  Only the preparer can use it to power spells, but anyone may take a dose for the skill bonus; note that it's mildly psychologically addictive and normally legal.