Saturday, September 18, 2021

RPM Mistakes- some made, some avoided

My brother moved across the country a few months ago, and to help deal with his social isolation he got up the energy to convince me and some other family members to start a new GURPS campaign. It's been going swimmingly, recaps may or may not be in the works.

That said, it's been a long time since I've GMed a campaign that uses Ritual Path Magic (and the last time the only PC caster was using alchemy), which means it's a perfect opportunity to go over mistakes we've made, as well as pitfalls we've avoided that have come up in play.

Delivering a Spell via Melee Attack is not a Free Lunch

I choose to accept a very broad reading of page 17 of Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic to allow attaching a spell to an attack:

Once created, the missile has to be delivered by touch
(using DX, Brawling, etc.)
Activating a charm requires a full Ready maneuver. Before we realized this the resident mage was thwacking people with his staff and loading additional spell damage beyond what would've been reasonable given the overall action economy of the game.

Yes, you can put a conditional on the weapon so that a spell takes place when it hits, but short of extremely careful preparation of conditional triggers (good luck convincing your GM to let that slide), you're looking at being one and done as far as those go.

Even the option presented in Pyramid #3-66 The Laws of Magic for Charm 'R' Us doesn't get around this - a ritual charm meant to deal damage after a melee attack still has to be activated with a Ready maneuver, even if the charms inhabit a physical wand or staff, or other object.

For those wondering why delivering a RPM spell via melee attack is still an appealing option:
  1. Cheaper than adding range and subject weight for internal damage
  2. No range penalties from attempting to utilize a missile for external damage
  3. Having actual melee weapon skill allows for better parry than raising Innate Attack skill
Important note: Compartmentalized Mind has no interaction with charms themselves due to the requirement of a Ready Maneuver.

Tapping Energy Reserve is a Free Lunch

Tapping Energy Reserve takes a Concentrate maneuver, meaning that as long as you tapped enough energy for the full spell cost, the spell happens immediately.

On the caster’s turn in which the last necessary point of energy has been acquired, he rolls against the appropriate Path skill (Choose the Skill, pp. 19-20) to cast the spell.

Blurring the Lines between Conditionals and Charms is a Bad Idea

Initially, I waffled on how concretely to treat Charms, whether they were physical objects, or something more akin to Vancian Magic where you just prep the spell ahead of time and then get to activate them at will.

Ultimately, forcing Charms to be physical objects that must be readied to use became important to ensuring that mages don't become magic machineguns, dishing our 7d of damage turn after turn after turn. This also introduces potential counter-play (by creating opportunities for enemies to respond before charms are utilized), allowed for people to steal charms created by others, and is overall more consistent.

It also forces more careful thought about the use of conditional spells in general.

The Rule of 16 is Important

Per B349:

If a supernatural attack (magic spell, psi ability, etc.) offers a resistance roll and the subject is living or sapient, the attacker’s effective skill
cannot exceed the
higher of 16 and the defender’s actual resistance. If it
does, reduce it to that level.
Example: A wizard has an effective skill of 18 with his Mind-Reading
spell. If he tries to read the mind of someone with a Will of 16 or less,
he rolls against 16. If his subject has a Will of 17, he rolls against 17.
And if his target has a Will of 18 or higher, he rolls against 18.

In our specific circumstance, the Rule of 16 should've kicked in when a practitioner with Path of Mind 19 whammied the party with a Terrify spell. With fright checks, rolling without -3 in penalties can be the difference between being stunned for 1 second and having to roll vs Will to snap out of it, or being stunned for 1d seconds then having to roll vs Will to snap out of it.

No, You can't Bestows a Penalty to the Resist Roll

I largely view this as a case of using magic to get better at magic, which is explicitly forbidden. You can hit someone with a spell that saps their HT or Will, or a spell that gives them Magic Susceptibility, but those spells have to defeat the target's Resistance Roll mano-a-mano before taking effect, and they only benefit the following spells that affect the target.

Penalties that take effect after the magic has successfully affected a target are generally fine.

This one we avoided.

Path Skill Defaults Can't Exceed 12

Path Skills default to Thaumatology-6, but cannot exceed 12 at Default. Beware your preferred character sheet program of choice 'helpfully' increasing Path Skills above 12 if a character's Thaumatology exceeds 18.

Drinking a Potion is yet another not Free Lunch

Per page 29 of Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic:
Before using an elixir, you must have it ready. If you
have it exposed (e.g., in a bandoleer), this takes only two
Ready maneuvers (one to draw it, one to open or ready it).

This is one that my group is still coming to grips with, along with another important note on potion use.

No Administering Potions to Unconscious Individuals

You cannot administer a potion or powder to an unconscious individual. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

GMing Advice: Your Game Should be What it says it is on the Tin

A friend of mine recently had a very amusing experience running Rogue Traders for his group. He presented his group with an assassination contract, meant to disrupt an upcoming vote on who would get to rule some lucrative mining planet.

He was completely floored when his players decided that instead of settling on just doing an assassination, they could rig the upcoming vote so that they would gain control of the lucrative mining planet.

Clearly my friend is blessed with ambitious players. Every single instance of players going off the rails to do something ballsy and epic is a gift that should be cherished by a wise GM.

He summed up the experience by stating:

"In my experience, players will create the type of sessions they want to play through their actions. You just need to follow through once they tell you what they want. Get out of the way."

It's excellent advice, assuming that the game your players have fun playing is a game you have fun running.

This post is largely geared towards readers who are recruiting players blind, and possibly people attempting to coax friends into forming a TTRPG playing group.

Incongruous Expectations

When a GM decides to start a campaign, they tend to have an idea what it will be like. Typically, just choosing a game system is a fairly binding choice right out of the gate. If you're playing in PARANOIA, or Exalted, or the World of Darkness, you have some pretty solid foundations that you can assume will hold true in most campaigns.

But even within the confines of game systems, there's plenty of variance on how each game can be approached. Saving the world quests, hack and slash combat, and political shenanigans are all three distinct campaign styles that you could run in each of the systems/settings above. (If Friend Computer says you saved the world, you saved the fucking world. Happiness is Mandatory.)

With all of that wiggle room and ambiguity, it's easy to see why horror stories abound of people joining new groups, only to discover that what the group considers (fun/acceptable/normal) is completely different than what the new player/gm expected. 

Even assuming some of those horror stories might be attributable to troglodytes and misanthropic assholes, I'm certain that a good portion of them are related to GMs/Groups failing to properly get on the same page about what everyone wants out of the game.

What the GM Wants

I certainly approach a new campaign by asking 'What do I want?'. After all, a GM who isn't interested in the type of game that they're supposed to run is in for a bad time. And so are their players.

Lately some family asked me to start a campaign for them so my goals were loosely:
  • Introduce completely green players to GURPS and TTRPGs
  • Not run a modern action game because I'm already running one
  • Considering that the players are new, whatever I come up with should have some heavy structure to it- I ended up choosing a central heroic quest that they'll hopefully latch onto and enjoy undertaking
Usually a GM's goals will align with the system, setting, genre, and premise that they present to potential players. The better you can do this, the easier a time you will have finding players who mesh well with you and the group.

Know Thyself

The Exalted Guru I know is an expert at weaving storylines together and does an excellent job of balancing the spotlight for players who frequently have extremely different gameplay goals. That said, I can't picture him running a mega-dungeon, or staying interested in a hack-and-slash campaign for very long.

I have another friend whose GMing talents revolve around heavy systemic world-building, coupled with good skill at stringing together missions to form a campaign. Building that world and doing the ground-level prep necessary to set players loose in those settings as a sandbox without firm rails is not really within their GMing toolbox.

I myself mostly run skulky-action games set in the modern age. My attempt at running something closer to super-heroes and every single one of my attempts to run Blades in the Dark have been utter failures.

Clearly, it's beneficial to be honest and aware of what you do well, what you can handle, and what you should recuse from and let someone else helm if that's what the group wants to play.

If you set out to do X, tell players they should expect X, and then fail to do it well because you're actually better at Y and unintentionally running Y, you've set yourself up for problems.

Know Thy Players

Discussion of player motivations and how to categorize them into taxonomies have been going on for decades. Given just how much those motivations can affect the course of a game, it's clear why it's a topic that's always good for sparking long conversations with your local grognards.

When your game allows the players to do the things they find interesting to do in play, you're in for a good time as a GM. Especially if what they find interesting also happens to be fun for you to watch.

Which is why it is so vitally important that the way you talk about the campaign accurately represents what the campaign will be like. If players accurately know what they're getting into, the better the chances that they will self-select OUT if the game wouldn't be a good fit for them.

In Summary:

Games are a blend of both what the GM and the Players want. The closer the premise and style of a campaign matches with the temperaments and goals of the players, the less friction there will be.

The better a GM is able to understand their tendencies, and the more accurately they represent themselves and their games, the easier time they'll have gathering players of a similar mindset.

A GM's capability to execute on what they try to do, their skill at the craft, and their improvisational chops  will determine how well things go when expectations clash, or unanticipated situations happen.

To his credit, my Rogue Trader pal handled the curveball from his players with aplomb. If the players pull off what they're planning, it will be a story they retell for years.

Final Thought:

It's important that you've reached zen acceptance that allowing other people to do things in an imaginative space where decisions actually lead to logical consequences will inevitably lead to the game not looking like the color-by-numbers you had originally envisioned in your mind.

If the emergent dynamics of a campaign freak you out, might I suggest becoming a novelist?