Introduction and Physical Product
GURPS Undead comes a part of a stock-standard product for the third edition line; softback, a solid glue binding, 128p, and with a good cover piece by Rogerio Vilela. The interior art includes many pieces but the irrepressible Dan Smith, with a scattering of others that supplement rather than detract from the style. The artwork throughout shows talent and creativity (the undead are always fun to draw) and are occasionally contextual - however one does get the sense that these started as "undead filler" and were placed after-the-fact. The format switches between two-column justified to single-colum with side-bars; it is a little disconcerting and probably detracts from the overall presentation.
There are six main chapters to the book, roughly of similar size. It starts with a history of the undead, followed by "dealing with the undead", then various game system mechanics, sample undead beings, sample characters, and finally undead campaigns. There is also a two page table of contents, a solid index, and recommended reading. The writing style is typical for GURPS products - a mixture of formal and informal, the occasional joke and semi-random use italics. It's not really to my personal taste, but it is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination.
Facts, Theories, and Mechanics
The first two chapters can basically be described as 'facts and theories', with one chapter on each. The factual part is a historical and cultural overview of the undead, It starts of on a few tangential matters (funeral rites, eschatology) before delving into various cultural beliefs, covering in a rather sweeping manner the classical world, "eastern" beliefs, medieval approaches, the pre-Columbian Americas, and finally modern and cinematic approaches. Surprisingly included in its own section is various "trappings" of the undead; mummification, tombs, grave robbing, and so forth - even though these are very much culturally specific.
This approach continues in the second chapter. It starts with undead origins, giving an scatter-gun overview of cultural and fictional approaches, with a split between "the restless" (e.g., ghosts), "the willful" (e.g., vampires, liches), and "the enslaved (e.g., zombies). The same approach is taken to describe what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how does one put the damn things down.
The third chapter, "The Mechanics of Reanimation" is various theories of how the undead operate. That is, how do they come into being, what form do they take. The first section is essentially how to build your own undead by starting with a broad form-based template and adding in strengths and weaknesses after that. It is not, one must emphasise, as crunchy as a "GURPS Vehicles" for the undead, but it's sort of in the same principle – unlike that book there is more attention to providing examples of actual undead rather than just how to build them!
Phaemorea is a classic High Fantasy genre game world designed for the classic BEMCI Dungeons & Dragons rules, however it can easily be ported into any version of Dungeons & Dragons , or with a little more tinkering, any system that supports high fantasy. It is designed as a new entry level world for beginning players, as well as an alternative world for older players who want to experience D&D in a new way, without losing any of the charm of the old way. References will be made to 1991 edition of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Why BECMI Dungeons & Dragons?
There is a misconception that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is the advanced version of Dungeons & Dragons. However, D&D does have an easy-going loose system that is very easy for a new player to pick up. There are less numbers to worry about, less jargon and less confusing options. Basically, you can take a new player though level 1 character development in five minutes and have them ready to play. Once playing, the rules are amazingly easy to pick up.
BECMI D&D still has all the depth of AD&D and D&D3.0+, it's just that that depth is introduced more gradually. This allows a new player time to learn each new option as they advance their character. In short, AD&D and D&D3.0+ gives an information dump at level 1, while D&D is designed to level up the complexity as the character levels up.
First of all, it is fair to say that not every player can handle a horror theme. It’s human nature for many people, when faced with stressful situations, to alleviate that stress through humour or other potentially disruptive techniques. Roleplay is meant to be fun, so it never feels right to chastise a player for having fun, even if it breaks the mood you’re trying to create. It’s better to outplay the player by weaving your horror in a way that establishes and maintains the right mood. That said, some players strive to be disruptive, and at times it's best to concede that until the group dynamic changes, horror stories won’t work.
It’s important to listen to players and get to know them. Using their real life fears is something that can be used to get under their skin and creep them out. However, you have to use such knowledge very, very carefully. One of my groups included a player who was creeped out by scary little kids. As the GM, I love using scary kids as a horror element, however this revelation meant I suddenly had to shelve the use of kids in my horror stories. Why? Because regular use of that technique would burn one player out and make them the subject of ridicule by others. Instead, I used the ‘creepy kid’ concept very sparingly. Instead of a creepy kid being a primary antagonist, I relegate them to a plot device instead. Essentially, out of respect for the player, I use the device with finesse.
A way to use real life fears responsibly for the people in your group is to simply make connections between what they are scared of, and what you want them to be scared of. If someone is scared of spiders, then dropping their character into a pit filled with spiders is ham-fisted and irresponsible as a GM. However, having a spider crawl from the eye socket of a skull, or slipping in a description of brushing away a spider’s web, can create little moments of tension for a player which helps build the sense of unease. You might even use spiders as an analogy for something else, such as saying “The vampire’s nails feel like the needle point legs of a spider as he walks his fingers up your arm.” Play it subtle, or you lose the impact.
This article requires the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion (SFC) and Savage Worlds Deluxe (SWD) by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
This article is intended to provide more defined methods of dealing with starships. Where possible I have done the math for you. Additionally, these rules offer more hooks to build stories on.
The SFC does not give a system for starship ownership beyond recommending a Medium size ship with $2M of Mods and an FTL drive (total $23M) or a light freighter ($23.53M). No discussion of who actually owns the
ship the degree on control the PCs have etc. I suspect this is because the answer to these questions varies greatly between settings and table preferences. In some settings your employer might provide a ship or the PCs might own a ship by referee fiat.
For a Star Wars, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Traveller style setting where an individual or small group can just afford a ship try the following new Edges. These Edges provide ‘shares’ with a $ value to be spent on a ship. All these edges can be taken multiple times and even shares from different Edges and characters combined into one or more vessels. A character that spends two Edges can just barely afford a Small FTL ship of their own by taking the loan shark or stolen option.
Ship Share Outright
You have a $2.5M share in the ownership of a ship no strings attached.
Ship Share, Stolen
You have a $7.5M to ‘spend’ on a ship however this represents a stolen ship or one where you stopped making loan repayments to one of your creditors well before the game begins. You don’t make repayments on this share. However, you have a Major Enemy Hindrance. Decide whether this is a powerful interstellar bank or criminal organization. See Legal loan and Loan Shark below for descriptions of these enemies.
Ship Share, Legal Loan
You have a $5M share in a ship but this is a loan. Your financial institution will only loan money if there is a method of repayment, for this reason at least 1/6 (round down) of a ship’s mods must be ‘empty’ at the time of purchase to be used as cargo space or the ship must have a superstructure (any kind).
For simplicity we will assume that interest, depreciation, taxes etc all add another 8% or so. Your minimum repayments are $15000 per month for 40 years (Total $5.4M). Payments can be made at any major world, or electronically if the setting has an interstellar internet. Failure to make payments usually results in penalty fines but this rapidly escalates. After a few months of no payment you earn a Major Enemy Hindrance, an interstellar bank able to exert its influence through most if not all of known space. The bank wont do anything illegal in the setting but depending on the setting consequences may include: seizing your assets, smashing your credit rating, attempts to capture and repossess the ship, debtor’s prison, and even execution. Worse still as well as its own agents the bank is able to mobilize law enforcement agencies and bounty hunters.
[This was originally completed in October 2009, but for various reasons has not seen the light of publication. Generally it still applies, but occasionally I’ll interject some comments in brackets from the perspective of 2016. Originally published in my blog, http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2016/04/why-arent-computer-rpgs-especially-mmos.html]
Oh, but they ARE as much fun, you say? Yet I don't see much evidence of that. For so many people it seems like a lot of work especially in MMOs - "the grind" - aimed at rising in level. People don't enjoy the journey, they only enjoy the destination ("I'm 80th level!"). That's why there's a big market for sale of items and gold and even entire accounts for such games, the market addressed by "pharming". (More details later.)
How did this happen? We can observe that, in hard core video games in general, this "ennui" seems to be a problem (ennui: "a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom"). The journey isn't much fun. People brag that "I beat the game," often throwing in an impressively-short duration of play, or that "I made maximum level", but they don't appear to have enjoyed it. How many of the hard core say "did you enjoy playing?", instead they say "how long did it take you to beat the game?" They want the result, not the experience. It's as though a ten year old who wants to be wealthy when he's 60 would be happy to jump from 10 to wealthy 60 without experiencing the years in between.
Set in an unsuspecting present day Earth, under the cloud of a coming Lovecraftian apocalypse, the Laundry is a game based on the Laundry Files novels and short stories of Charles Stross. With ghosts, ghouls, zombies and people-who-saw-too-much as co-workers the players must work as agents of Her Majesty’s Government to protect the realm, and ultimately the whole of humanity, from things that crawl at the edges of our imagination and the deluded cultists that worship them.
The Book Itself
The production quality is excellent whether like me you spend your beer tokens on pdfs or invest in the hefty but well made hardback with tables and pictures dotting the pages. The layout is that of a bulky dossier. Tabs along the borders indicate chapters and tips for running the game are on post-it notes. The forward by Charles Stross is a transcript of a phone call between Angleton & Bob at the start of the book and regular annotations throughout tie these two characters from the novels into the game. The book is peppered by orientation documents from HR or Health & Safety notices for 'newly transferred personnel', photos of things going wrong taped into the book and articles from the Archives on a variety of monsters. All these add to the pleasure of reading this book but are also excellent as handouts to players. They add flavour to games and can aid in introducing new aspects of the world without resorting to a 10 minute exposition monologue from the GM.
So, what about the Contents and Index? I hear you ask. As you would want but not necessarily expect, they are neatly laid out and accurate. Chapters and the main topics within them are identified and page numbered. Only once or twice have I had that feeling that the information I need is in the book somewhere but not the index.
Death and Damage in Most RPGs
Death of a character in most RPGs is a very significant event. The countless numbers of first level Dungeons and Dragons characters, savaged by an orc, goblin, or even particularly a particularly nasty house-cat in some cases, is a testimony for a game which was not only heavily combat-orientated, but also one which started such characters with but a handful of hit points An interesting exception in first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was the Ranger - with maximum constitution and maximum die rolls, they could start with 24 hit points! But of course, this is an exception.
This dramatic moment did not change in games that had less of a combat orientation. In investigative-horror games like Call of Cthulhu character demise is often dramatic and sudden. Poor Scouts in Traveller were famous for facing their demise even before the start of play. As character gained in ability, it was usually of a primary motivation to provide some sort of protection for the character for sudden mortality; whether it is Divine Intervention in RuneQuest, Raise Dead or Resurrection in Dungeons and Dragons and so forth.
In some cases there was a level of dissonance in the mortal experience was due to game design issues and particularly the confusion in creative agendas, a conflict between game, simulation, and narrative approaches. Character deaths could be objected to as being "not realistic" (the savage house-cat example). A game with an extensive character generation process and a sudden mortality (e.g., Cyberpunk, Rolemaster) could seriously offend the player's sense of narrative, even if it was expressed in such terms. Games like Dungeons and Dragons, interestingly, because character generation could be so quick, did not usually suffer issue as badly - first level characters typically had very little character background.
There have been numerous means to get around these issues. Games like RuneQuest and GURPS, for example, had starting characters with static but somewhat realistic starting health levels - they could take a couple of blows and still remain standing. A popular house rule allowed Dungeons and Dragons characters to start with maximun hit points at first level, which was integrated officially in latter editions of the game (with fourth edition rules providing hit points effectively as a 'per encounter' basis). GURPS, unlike it's friends in the Basic Role Playing family, also included rather extensive opportunities for unconsciousness.
A Runequest list has been hosted on the rpgreview.net domain since 2008. This list is the direct successor to prior Runequest lists that date back from the 1980s including the following: Andrew Bell's RuneQuest dailies, 1987-1994, Henk Langeveld's RuneQuest dailies 1993, the RuneQuest 4 Adventures in Glorantha playtesting 1993, Loren Miller's RuneQuest rules list 1994-1996, the Rob Miracle Imagic list RuneQuest rules list of 1998-2001, and the Crashbox RuneQuest rules list of 2001-2008.
Despite being in publication since 2003 (and prior to that, as Hero Wars, in 2000), HeroQuest is still somewhat unknown among many RPG games - some of whom confuse it with the HeroQuest board game. To put simply, HeroQuest is one of the most well-defined roleplaying system with an explicitly 'narrativist' creative agenda, with a consistent resolution system across all types of actions and conflicts. Character have abilities with ratings which are compared against other with contested d20 rolls; the results determine the degree of success or failure for the action.
The following are a set of short elaborations to the core rules which allow for Pyrric Victories, Hero Points for NPCs, Hero Points for General Narrativism, Hero Point Advances, Keywords and Broad Abilities, Limited Augments, and Equipment Bonuses.
"Another victory like this and I shall be ruined"
- attributed to Pyrrhus via Plutarch, Battle of Heraclea, 280 BCE
The HeroQuest rules, as written, essentially allow for a victory or loss to one side or the other, in simple contests. Every action is an opposed test between two related abilities, with a default ability of 6 where there is none available and a default resistance of 14 where there is no active opposing force. Abilities may be augmented by relted, but not primary, abilities in the test by dividing the ability score by 5 (by 10 in first edition HeroQuest).
The two values are then compared against other and d20 die roll determines the relative success or failure. If a modified abilities is above 20, then it receives a 'mastery' which can be used to bump a result up (a failure to a success) or down (a success to a failure). A roll fo a natural 20 is a fumble, and a roll of 1 is a critical. The degree of defeat is determined by the difference of the die rolls with penalty applied to resultant actions:
Complete - results differ by 3 levels (e.g., Critical vs Fumble). Dying, no actions possible.
Major - 2 levels (e.g. Success vs Fumble, or Critical vs Failure). Injured, -20 to appropriate actions.
Minor - 1 level (e.g. Success vs Failure). Impaired, -6 to appropriate actions.
Marginal Victory or tie (When results are equal, the lower die roll wins). Hurt, -3 to appropriate actions.
The moment her spell clicked the latch open Vel the pixie played a shrill note on her flute. On that signal the furred form of Borm the bear burst into the room and slammed into the ogre. Just behind him Tam the child slipped in to help the prince from the cage ...
This is a setting for the D&D 5e game but one quite unlike typical settings like WOTC’s The Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. Don’t worry though, this setting draws on British fairy tales which in turn have influenced a lot of fantasy novels, TV, and film. This world will seem very familiar.