Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Around the Blogs: Point Costs

There have been a few posts on point costs in GURPS over the past couple of days:

Ravens n' Pennies: Back to the Drawing Board
Mailanka's Musings: On the Cost of Advantages
Let's GURPS: "Fair Pricing"

My Take

I doubt it's possible to come up with a universal notion of what a point's worth and have it be meaningful.  A point to a spellcaster using the standard magic system is another spell or a potentially valuable Perk (Reduced Footprint, for example,) to a fighter it's a Combat Perk, or it's 1/4 the way to another skill level in his primary skill, and so on.  It varies, not only from character to character, but from group to group, and even from campaign to campaign with the same group.  I think that means there's always a subjective element to any GURPS Advantage pricing.

My Example: Far-Caster

On my post about Magical Advantages, I listed Far-Caster at 30 points, which gives spells that normally take the Regular penalty for range (-1/yard) the Range penalty instead.  This is an advantage I cribbed from an edition of Rolemaster (the one with all the Companions) that I wrote up for a campaign that started in 1995.  I have been tweaking the cost of this advantage for literally 20 years, and I don't even know for sure that I've got the cost I want yet.

It started out that being a Threshold-caster was 25 points, and being a Far-Caster was another 25 points.  At this point some Sorcerers were Far-Casters, but not all of them.  After a couple of campaigns, it became clear to me that being a Threshold caster wasn't really much of an advantage over a FP based Mage I reduced the cost for Threshold casting to 10 points, then later eliminated it.  I changed the cost for Far-Caster to 20 points, at which point all Threshold-users were Far-Casters.  I increased the cost of Far-Caster back to 25, then to 30, and yet all Sorcerers are still Far-Casters.  That's probably got more to do with a question of utility vs. raw power in this particular case, but I think it demonstrates that pricing something in GURPS is an art, not a science, and it's not always easy.

What About Balance?

I think that's another very subjective thing.  The two important bits for me are that a well-made PC feels valuable and capable at least some of the time, and isn't casually overshadowed by another character who isn't focused on the same things.  That can actually be an issue in GURPS; since you need a high IQ to play an effective Mage, a few points in social skills could accidentally make you better than the party face with at least some social stuff.  There's obviously more to it than just raw skills, such as Charisma, Cultural Familarities, and other social Advantages for a start, but when a point in Diplomacy gets you a 12 without even trying hard there's a certain inherent problem with the balance.

For me that's not a really big issue, but I'd be lying if I tried to pretend it didn't exist.  A GURPS GM really has to be careful of this sort of thing, and free with advice on how to spend points wisely even for experienced players.  A social monster, properly built, will talk circles around Mr Diplomacy 12, and will be a valuable contributor to the group.  Given the right situations, his points will feel well-spent and just as worth it as another spell for the mage.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Magnificent Samurai: Session 3

Magnificent Samurai was last Sunday but I just finished the log.


  • Augustus Scitiori - A former centurion, and a dual-weapon master of shortswords.
  • Catonio, a Catfolk Swashbuckler searching for the Six Fingered Man who killed his parents.
  • Eliot de la Frau - A Saber-master and pirate.
  • Erland - a Jotun wrestler.
  • Markus - A Hobgoblin Paladin of the God of Chivalry.
  • Melek - a Nephilim (half-angel) greatswordsman and user of Imbuements.
  • Tonokai - a Kazanjiman horse-archer (but not technically a Samurai as she has no Status.)
  • Gortak, a Jotun master of the Greatsword.

Rumors Abound

The party spent a week asking around to gather information to see what was going on in the area.  They also wanted to head to the village where a strange murder had occurred and check out what was going on. 

They picked up the following rumors:
  • The treasury at Yellow Lotus Abbey wasn't found by the bandits who destroyed it so there should still be some valuable stuff there.
  • The local Governor, Lord Mao Haoren, is missing after going off with the Imperial Loyalist Army about three years ago.  No one knows if he's dead or not, and his wife, Lady Mao Dihuang is running things unofficially until he gets back or is replaced.

Travelling to the Abbey and a Detour

So, the party decided to head out for the abbey and see what was left there.  They first decided to travel to Long Pines, the village mentioned by farmers in Session One where a strange murder was committed.  They questioned several villagers, and found that the farmer had been confined to his home until a magistrate was present so he could be tried.  The consensus seemed to be that it was strange that he'd murdered her, as he had seemed normal till this happened.  Some of the farmers even thought the woman could have been a fox spirit, but no one seemed to think she was beautiful enough for that.

The party's hired Priestess was asked, and she thought it sounded more like a case of possession, and that the victim could have been one of the Serpent People from the Underworld, as they have a bad reputation and are said to sometimes replace victims on the surface for unclear reasons.

The party had the Priestess exorcise the murderer, and a blue-skinned demon popped out.  On his turn, he summoned three Vrocks and combat was on.  No one in the party had Demon Lore, so they couldn't aim for vitals or other weak points that weren't obvious (limbs, the neck, etc.)  They all turned out to be resistant to normal weapons, but not immune, so the party was able to win after a bit of a slog.  No PCs were killed, though a couple suffered Major Wounds and a Vrock's Screech stunned a few of them for a couple of turns.  When the blue demon died, it uttered a phrase in the ear of Markus: "Muu Shidten."  Locals said it sounded like a Meng name but no one was familiar with it.

After the victory, the party headed to the murdered woman's original home (she had been a remarried widow and had held her deceased husband's home and land.)  They found a hole, three feet in diameter, heading downwards with a sulfurous smell coming from it.  They warned the villagers to fill in the hole and were rewarded for their troubles with a feast in their honor and a place to stay the night.

They heard the following during the party:
  • Xinghong, the Scarlet Wizard, one of the two local magical movers and shakers, is offering a $4,000 reward for his missing scrying orb, and any interested parties should inquire at his tower.
  • Imperial Loyalist forces are expected to be moving into the area in the next six months.

The next day out, the party was ambushed by a large number of strange Ant-men, but the party seemed to be faster on the ground so they fled and avoided a fight (a strange coincidence I'm posting this now since Dungeon Fantastic just had a post on fleeing.)  They then met a travelling Alchemist, Liulang Zhe, and they bought most of his healing potions and asked about the local area. He warned them that:
  • Yellow Lotus Abbey is haunted by the ghosts of the slaughtered nuns and is very dangerous for the unprepared.
  • He also knew a basic version of the legends of Muu Shidten: he was an evil Meng wizard who lived for two hundred years and had vampires for servants.  When he finally died he was buried in a mausoleum just the other side of the mountains on the Meng Plateau.  One of the merchant's grandmothers had been Meng and told him the stories.

They asked the Priestess if she could deal with spirits, and she said she could probably put Affect Spirits on the weapon of one party member without taxing her resources too much.  Any more than that and she might not be able to heal much in combat.  She wasn't sure they could be flat-out Exorcised since as the unlamented dead, they probably had a right to be there.

The Scarlet Wizard Xinghong

The party decided to take a detour to the pagoda of the Scarlet Wizard, to see if he could provide them with anything that could affect spirits, as well as check on his job offer.  Xinghong informed them that one of his apprentices had stolen his six inch scrying crystal and fled to the provincial capital of Shoudu, about a month's travel upriver.  He offered to Create Gate to the city to speed their journey there if they agreed to the mission.

They asked him who might be interested in buying his orb there, and he admitted that he had originally been a member of the Shoudou Mage's Association, but had a nasty argument with two of the other leaders of the group which ended with him Mindlessness-ing one of them and using Shapeshift Other (Toad) on the other and leaving the city in disgrace.  Either of them would probably pay fairly well just to embarrass him.


Arriving in Shoudou, the party were warned by the gate guards to immediately travel to a lodging house and store their weapons and armor, as the city was under martial law.  They also had to bribe the guards to get a civic travel pass, but it was fairly cheap, only 1 silver a person ($20.)  Augustus spent some unfruitful time in the Magistrate's Quarter later trying to get a provincial travel pass, but it proved too expensive for the moment ($1000 a person.)

The party did some searching for a few days until they narrowed down that the fled apprentice was staying in the Foreign Quarter, and traveling to the Magistrate's Quarter to meet a contact to sell the orb.  There were only three bridges crossing the bridges from the Foreign Quarter on her most likely travel path, so the party split up into teams to cover them (only three party members bought Observation so it worked out just right.)  

This almost ended in disaster, as two-of-three of the team consisting of Markus, Melek, and Gortak have Impulsiveness, and they just happen to be the Giant and the Half-angel who glows like a torch.  The goal was to steer her to the other two groups, as Catonio and Eliot both had good skill levels in Shadowing and Stealth.  When they spotted her, The Terrible Duo started moving towards her, and so she turned and fled back into the crowd.

They tried again the next day, made the decision to use the twosome to steer her in the direction they wanted, and luckily spotted her again.  They herded her to the bridge where Catonio and Eliot were waiting and they were able to follow her to where she met her contact.  They overhead her arguing about money, and she left without concluding the deal.  It was pretty obvious from her body language that she was getting desperate, so Eliot decided to sneak into her apartment that night and see if the orb was there.  He used a Potion of Invisibility that the party had looted from the bandits and extracted the orb.

My Notes

It took the group a good week in the city to track the girl down and finish the mission.  Their skill levels as a group of fighters were a bit low for the task at hand, but they managed fairly well (Eliot's player even made a joke about how "Future me is so good at this adventure.")  I rolled 2d for the number of days till she sold the orb, and I had a d12 sitting next to me I was using to countdown the days until the sale was made and they ended with three days to spare.  Had the girl sold it, the group would have had to fight a group of mages to get it so it's just as well for them they succeeded.

Post edited 6/13 at 8:00 pm: I forgot an important point so I edited the post to put it in.  I also rearranged the rumors a bit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Artifacts: The Bronze Arrow

The Black Arrow of Zumzack style I wrote up was inspired by a former PC from a while back, Zumzack son of Grimzak.  Zumzack was a Goblin fighter-mage who focused on the Movement college (I think he had one-college only Magery).  His main focus was on Flight and Hawk Flight, though he also used Haste and Great Haste a lot.  During the campaign, he found The Bronze Arrow, an artifact-level arrow, and used with Winged Knife to great effect from then on.

The Bronze Arrow

This is an arrow fashioned entirely from bronze-like metal, though it's much tougher than ordinary bronze.  It counts as Very Fine, in addition to being enchanted with both Accuracy and Puissance 3.  It's also Loyal and has Quick-draw.  It's greatest benefit is that it's immune to any magic not performed by its current owner.  Missile Shield, Reflect Missile, and the like fail, any magical DR doesn't count against it, a target can Blink away, but Phase fails, and so forth.

Stats when launched with Winged Knife:

Bronze Arrow
1d+7 imp
[1]: Base damage is calculated as if fired from a Longbow.

Cost:  As with all Artifacts, effectively priceless.  An owner was offered twenty pounds of gold ($400,000) for it once but the offer was refused.  The last known owner was Rupert the Otyugh Mage.
Component spells: Known: Accuracy, Loyalty, Puissance, Quick-draw.  Suspected: Shatterproof, Magic Immunity (?).  It appears unmarred despite decades of constant use so it may be able to repair itself.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Notes on GURPS Magic Enchantment

I've made a few rulings on enchantment over the years, and this is a good place to share them.  I use the standard magic system's enchantment rules in large part, but with my own assumptions and tweaks like I'm sure every GURPS GM has.

Overall Goals and Problems

My primary worldbuilding goal was to have enchantment be a one-man process of artistry as opposed to a factory type arrangement with large circles of enchanters, the standard assumption presented in GURPS Magic.   This presents a few challenges:

  1. As written, Slow-and-Sure enchantment only allows you to put 1 energy per enchanter per day in, so even simple items would take years;
  2. Quick-and-Dirty enchantment rapidly becomes non-economical unless you have multiple Enchanters sharing the load; 
  3. if the supply of Enchanters is limited the PCs are going to be behind a big queue of Dukes, Kings, Archbishops, and the like so any enchantments they paid for would be even more years in coming.

My primary gameplay goal was to have PCs be able to commission enchantments and get their stuff in a reasonable timeframe, say six months to a year or so.  I also wanted PCs to be able to enchant lesser items, especially Scrolls and Powerstones, on their own.  In addition, I wanted to rationalize the price of enchanted items, as I've never cared for the sliding scale of prices between Quick-and-Dirty and Slow-and-Sure, preferring a flat rate for either.

My Solutions

I came up with a few solutions and some changes for flavor, and as stuff I find useful has come out for GURPS over the last few years I've added to the list.

#1: Removed the Scroll spell

I changed the way scrolls are prepared.  I've never found the Scroll spell to be useful or necessary, so I dropped it.  Scrolls are still enchanted items, but you don't need a separate Scroll spell, or Enchant, or any prerequisites other than knowledge of (i.e., 1 point in) the spell to be scribed and Magery (or Power Investiture for a clerical Scroll.)  You can add 2xMagery energy per day for an Uncharged Scroll, Magery per day for a Charged Scrolll, 1/2xMagery per day for a Universal Scroll, or 1/4xMagery per day for a Charged, Universal Scroll (keeping track of fractional points until the scroll is completed).  I'm using the terms from Dungeon Fantasy, but I've been treating the standard Scroll as Charged for years as my players have long viewed a Scroll that doesn't provide any energy to be useless.  Best use of a Scroll over the years: creating a 100 hex area of Suspend Mana over an evil spellcaster's sanctuary.

A Scroll has to be scribed at a minimum effective skill of 15 to be activated, and you can use Thaumatology and Symbol Drawing (Scrollmaking) as Complementary Skills to increase your effective skill as well as trading energy for skill as in Ceremonial Magic.  Scribing the scroll requires a roll against the spell when you're done as well as any complementary skills.

#2: Made Slow-and-Sure and Quick-and-Dirty Mutually Exclusive

An Enchantment can either be Slow-and-Sure or Quick-and-Dirty, but not both (with one exception and at this point a few workarounds).  The Staff spell or Powerstones and similar items are Q&D, while other enchantments are S&S. Weapon Enchantments cast on ammunition can be either.  If you take the 1/10 energy cost on appropriate ammo enchantments, you cast it Q&D but it's strictly one-shot, the Enchantment fading after it's used.  If you cast it at full cost, it's S&S and permanent (on a very fragile item, hope you added Shatterproof!)  I also broadened the list of spells that get the 1/10 ammo reduction.  After some back of the envelope calculations and a liberal amount of BSing, I decided Q&D enchantment costs $1/point, while S&S costs $20/point.

#3: Assume Professional Enchanters Put 10 Energy a Day Into Slow-and-Sure Items

I assume that there are enchanted tools, Advantages or Perks, and maybe even Techniques that PCs don't normally take that allow a professional enchanter to put 10 energy into an Enchantment a day while performing Slow-and-Sure enchantment.  PCs can put energy equal to their Magery a day in the field for S&S enchantment.  I had a simple goal here: my gut instinct was that a Sword enchanted with +1 Accuracy and +1 Puissance or a wand of Fireball should take at most a month or two to enchant.  At 10 energy a day, assuming no breaks, that's 50 or 60 days.

#4: Raw Magic to the Rescue

I added the Raw Magic rules from Thaumatology (page 227) when that book came out.  One-shot sources of Raw Magic have been excellent additions to my Random Encounter Tables.  Raw Mana can be used for any of the listed uses in the book.  In addition, you can burn a point for +3 to Alchemy when creating an elixir or +3 to any rolls required to create a new spell, and the last option has by far been the most popular use in my campaigns.

Note that when you're enchanting an item using Raw Mana, you always use Quick-and-Dirty enchantment (one of the workarounds to #2 above.)

#5: A New Addition: Magical Essences

I'm also using the rules on Magical Essences from Pyramid 3-66, "The Material Difference."  This method also uses the Q&D times like Raw Mana.  I'll post more on this one later as it deserves it's own post.


GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages by Sean Punch
GURPS Fantasy by William H. Stoddard
GURPS Magic by Steve Jackson, S. John Ross, and Daniel U. Thibault
GURPS Thaumatology by Phil Masters
Pyramid 3-66: The Laws of Magic, "The Material Difference" by Sean Punch

Review: Pyramid 3-91: Thaumatology IV

Today, it's time to review the May 2016 Pyramid: Thaumatology IV.  Anyone reading should know by now that I'm a big fan of the standard magic system, so these sort of issues are always right up my alley.

Technomysticism by W. A. Frick

This is an article geared towards GURPS Monster Hunters, and I don't own or use that series, so I skipped this one entirely.

Grade: No grade on this one; I don't like Monster Hunters so I didn't even read it beyond the intro.

The Tome of the Black Island by J. Edward Tremlett

This article centers around a black magic grimoire a-la the Necronomicon or Conan's Books of Skelos.  The background is interesting, and creepy as black magic should be.  It looks like the germ of a good idea, but there's not enough information about the spells included in the book to make them useful.  The game rules here are too bare bones, and the spell descriptions are missing any mention of any of the existing GURPS magic systems, which I find to be a fatal flaw in a GURPS article.

Grade: D.  A simple paragraph or two, or an inset with stats for at least the standard magic system or even Ritual Path Magic would easily have made this one a B, but for me it would be much more work than it's worth to write up detailed write-ups of all the spells.

Update: PK reminded me on the forums that the color codes for the articles have meaning.  I don't pay that much attention, usually, as I think of Pyramid as the GURPS magazine so anything in it should relate to GURPS, but it's certainly accurate that my judgement of the article  was unfair based on that .

Revised Grade:  C.It's no more usable to me in it's current format but lacking any relevant GURPS statistics is irrelevant.

Eidetic Memory: Dark Alchemy by David L. Pulver

This article is about evil alchemy, more or less. I think with two big articles about naughty magic you have the seed of a good Halloween Thaumatology issue here. I liked the elixirs and found most of them immediately useful, and I always like articles about Alchemy anyway.

Grade: A.  Good and usable stuff here, which fits my games with minimal tweaking.

The Thaumaturgy of Metallurgy by Ted Brock

An expansion for GURPS Magic, we get the College of Metal here.  There are some really good spells in here, and it's a good addition with notes about spells already in the magic system. I have to say both that I like the Anvil Strike spell since it puts me in mind of Bugs Bunny and that it's a bit too cartoony for my use.

Grade: A.  Another solid one that I'm seriously thinking about putting in to my gameworld with some minor adjustments.

Codex Duello by Christopher R. Rice

A duelling system for spellcasters, this article is something I didn't even know I wanted.  The general framework is really good, and I like the idea of a mutually created magical shield that keeps bystanders safe.

The stages of the magical duel are evocative and there are a couple of ideas I may develop more.  For a while now I've been giving Wands, Staffs, and Rods all a +2 to offset Regular and Area range penalties instead of reducing range by their length.  I'm going to riff off the Foci mentioned here into more of a range of things that can reduce the penalty from anywhere from 1 to 4 based on the price.  It would give me a reason to present a "wand of hawthorn with a core of basilisk sinew" or similar descriptors like in Harry Potter, and it could make the Focus of a particular PC or NPC mage more vivid, which is always a good thing.

Grade: A+.  Really top notch.

Random Thought Table: The Power of a Good Reputation by Steven Marsh

Fame as magical power.  This one's a bit far out for me and I don't think I'd use it but it's a neat idea nonetheless.

Grade: B.  I'm not going to use it but it's a cool concept.

Final Grade: B.  A good issue overall, but I found one of the articles had some serious flaws.

Revised Grade: A-.  "The Tome of the Black Island" wasn't a strictly GURPS article so I regraded it.