Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Things Eric taught me about GURPS (and gaming in general)

First, I should say I'm sorry; I try to update regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with maybe a post or two in between, but I've missed that schedule twice in quick succession. Work is in overdrive right now; hopefully things will die down soon (unless my life changes, like it might - we'll see).

Anyhow, Eric was my old game master. We played a game set in Yrth, though we weren't much for gritty politicking; it was very much a swords and sorcery dungeon-delving game. Actually, originally, it was set in a cyberpunk world, but I only learned that from my dad. See, I joined this campaign when I was three years old and played until it ended in 14 and a half years; I'm given to understand it actually ran for something like 17.

To call this a formative experience in gaming is something of an understatement. It informs the whole way I look at gaming, and it explains a lot about my priorities, both at the table and beforehand. So, without further ado, lessons I learned (as a GM) by playing and talking with Eric.

All rules are suggestions. Many are good, some are not; none are necessary

No, seriously, all rules. We played GURPS in Eric's game of course, but we rolled 2d10 instead of 3d6. Why? Because Eric wanted to; he liked the curve better and wanted a good excuse to use those dice. Also, we never used the shock rules. Those aren't optional rules; they're core functionality. So what? Eric didn't like bothering with them, so we didn't. There are numerous other examples, especially in monster design. I really don't much care about exactly statting out the Affliction or Innate Attack (Emanation); all I want to know is that if the PCs walk within 5 yards of the slime they have to roll vs HT-5 or be nauseated and take 1d-3 damage because it's spewing out nerve gas.

At the same time, it's good to know the limitations of the rules and the designs that stick to them rigorously, in case it comes up. (PCs have to follow the rules in character creation, for example.) I just don't blink twice at making exceptions.

Player/character actions matter

Had a plan of something really cool that could happen? Did the players mess it up? Good for them.

Here we enter the dangerous waters of gamer reminiscence...

We had an over-arching quest to gather the pieces of a magical hammer so we could destroy a powerstone fueling the transformation of Keyhole Bay into a pocket dimension for various reasons. Along the way, there was a huge, nasty dungeon complex; we attempted it and were soundly thrashed by venemous animated trees in the vestibule. Further, we knew some very nasty folks lived there, who would be very upset if we took their hammer-piece. What to do?

We eventually settled on the plan of teleporting two people in, grabbing the hammer, teleporting back out, and then teleporting in a 2,000 pt Exploding Fireball. This was a risky plan; people had to go in to grab the hammer beforehand, which included finding it. (We knew roughly where it was because of a Seeker spell, but that doesn't give you exact location in a room, and it was guarded.) On top of that, this is on a 5-second timer, because that's roughly now long we have before the ubermenschen figure out they no longer have their piece of the hammer and come looking for it, by our estimation. Plus, there's a chance of teleporting into solid rock, etc.

Needless to say, when we pulled it off, Eric was not particularly happy. He had spent a lot of time preparing that dungeon. However, he let us do it, because we planned it out meticulously, we took advantage of a high-risk high-payoff strategy, and he operated by a policy of no-take-backs.

Conversely, this was all a problem in the first place because we'd accidentally warped the nature of magic by over-abusing the Catastrophe tables. Also, Black Cat.

Black Cat, to be succint, was a former PC-turned-pirate who was the bane and nemesis of the party. She was competent and brutal, and an enemy because of several mistakes on our part, including leaving her in the tender care of a demon while too far down on our priorities list (underneath figuring out what was going on in Minder and killing a local dragon, etc.) Furthermore, she recruited our cast-offs, even occasionally having them show back up to spy on us. (In fact, in the end, she won...)

I could go on (and on, and on), but the point of this post isn't to air my fond memories.

Rulings should be fair, not necessarily consistent

Certainly, the former often includes the latter, but not always. If a player is trying to tie you down with precedent in order to break the game, don't let him.

The game is about having fun, and that happens when people are playing

Sure, there's probably a rule for it somewhere. And you should know the rules fairly intimately, so as to pull it out if you can, and have a good background if you can't. However, if you're not sure what the answer is, it doesn't matter: make something up that sounds fair. Not sure if the PC had that potion in his backpack or somewhere else? Contest of percentile dice. (Sure, that works out to a %50 chance, but rolling competitively when somthing is on the line is fun.) Not sure exactly what the minus is for shooting in the dark with a full moon but cloud cover? -4 sounds about right. How about the minuses to hit your enemy while you both are standing in a cart barrelling down a mountainside and under attack? -3, because anything further is an un-fun series of misses. (See point 1)

Characters come and characters go

Seriously, you don't have to pull punches to protect the kid's special snowflake. He'll make another. What's more, he'll remember that time his favorite fighter lost precisely 2 more points than the -10xHP resurrection threshold, and come to appreciate it later. Besides, everyone has three characters anyway, right? (We engaged in something I only later came to know as 'troupe play' - often, there would be about five players, and about fourteen characters. It worked really well.)

You can always up the ante

Always. It doesn't matter if a player wants to bring in a completely twinked out psi squeezing every last drop out of very optimized point allocations. That just means you get to put a pair of mind flayers in the room. There is not a single thing a player can do that you can't deal with.


  1. I struggle terribly with rule number 1. I am a solid rule-follower and always have been. I prefer to follow the letter of the rules and to have a rule for every occasion. I'm not very good with the "Rule 0" concept where the GM just makes things up as they go along - may be why I gravitate towards GURPS and FATE makes my soul hurt.

    That said, I find that I don't have a large number of folks to play with, and it may in fact be because people like me are in the minority in the gaming community.

    1. I don't mean this post as a set of recommendations or anything, just an explanation of my background that shades what I'm doing here. As for your not having people to play with, I'd bet that has more to do with the local gaming scene than your style as a player or GM.