Going where no one has gone before in GURPS

I spend an inordinate amount of time on fantasy settings and rules when I talk about games. It’s where I started when I was eight and a friend laid hands on a copy of Holmes Basic D&D, and it’s where I’ve done the bulk of my adventuring since. But I’m an advocate for generic systems like GURPS, so it seems a disservice to dwell too long on the fantasy elements when there’s so much more there there.

So, I put it to the G+ community that I had what I thought was a pretty robust list of supplements I’d want to make use of if I were to fire up a Sci Fi campaign akin to Star Wars or Star Trek or the like.

Of course the Basic Set, but also the Space supplement and all of the Spaceships PDFs, Martial Arts and Technical Grappling for robust hand to hand combat rules, Psionic Powers to replace the default rules in the Basic Set, and then an array of Tech books (High, Bio and Ultra Tech)

It was put to me that I didn’t really need High Tech – if the tech level is high enough, you’ve got the sort of slug throwers you need already present in Ultra Tech, so that eliminated some of the bulk. Replacing that, however, was a suggestion to add Powers to round out the advantages rules from Basic, plus a smattering of subject-appropriate Pyramid magazines.

Every one of those books is helpful, and no mistake, but skimming through the Basic Set just now it occurred to me that you don’t need a damned thing more than the Basic Set for 90% of your Sci Fi game. Psionic rules are already there, albeit far more abridged than those in the full supplement. Weapons and armor are present if not wide in selection, they’re far more than sufficient. If there’s a weakness it’s in non-combat gear. The Miscellaneous Equipment section is remarkably light on higher tech level equipment.

So, worst case scenario, you come up with your own gear list, and you abstract space travel into a plot point, and you’re off to the races with nothing more than the Basic Set.

Wait, I don’t have to turn visible to attack? – Invisibility in GURPS

Got to talking the other day about invisibility and how it is handled, mechanically, in various game systems. Notable in this discussion was just how neutered the invisibility spell was in every edition of D&D we’d ever played, and in fact I’ve yet to find an edition or clone that doesn’t have effectively the same wording – that you stay invisible until you attack. Pathfinder, the closest I get to D&D anymore, gets very specific about what constitutes an attack (it includes spellcasting, including area of effect spells, but does not include, say, cutting the ropes on a bridge someone is using, causing them to fall to their death) but regardless this has been true at least as far back as Holmes Basic, and I’ve seen references to OD&D and Chainmail using the same system.

Someone was concerned that invisibility was a little too powerful, it would seem.

But what of GURPS? I thought about it, and I couldn’t recall a time that a PC had used any sort of invisibility magic in any campaign I’d participated in. Notably, we have had NPCs become invisible (a minotaur in the first instance, nearly killing us all, and a slaver bandit with a potion in the second case) and I knew the effects weren’t nearly so curtailed.

The spell as presented in the default magic system in GURPS is very straight forward, explained in a single paragraph:

Invisibility
Regular
The subject cannot be seen and does not appear in reflections or photographs. He still makes sounds and can be tracked by scent or footprints. Anything he picks up becomes invisible, unless he wills it to stay visible. Infravision cannot detect him, but See Invisible can. Invisible characters have a great advantage in combat: see p. B394.
Duration: 1 minute.
Cost: 5 to cast. 3 to maintain.
Time to cast: 3 seconds.
Prerequisites: Six Light spells,including Blur.

The emphasized portion is key here – the concept of invisibility is standard in GURPS, as it could come about any number of ways, the mixed blessing of a universal system. Of note here is that the spell isn’t instantaneous – it takes a few seconds to work up to it; it’s not cheap, and even an expert caster (with Invisibility at skill 20) invests 3 FP to cast the spell and 1 more every minute to maintain it; and it’s not something you can just take as your first spell, needing a fair handful of prerequisites.

What does GURPS say on B394 about combat with invisible people? Perhaps unsurprisingly given a system which lavishes so much detail on everything, the answer is nuanced:

A combat situation where some fighters can’t see their foes affects attacks and defenses.

Attacker cannot see anything. If the attacker is blind or in total darkness, he can make a Hearing-2 roll – or use some other method – to discover his foe’s location. If he fails his Hearing roll, he may attack in a randomly chosen direction (on a map, he must specify the hex). He attacks at -10 (-6 if he is accustomed to being blind). Roll hit location randomly.

Attacker cannot see his foe, but can see his other surroundings. If only the attacker’s foe is invisible, use the rules above, but the attack penalty is only -6.

Attacker cannot see his foe, but knows his location for sure. If the foe is in a single smoke-filled hex or the like, use the rules above, but no Hearing roll is required and the attack penalty is only -4.

Defender cannot see his attacker. If the attacker (including his weapon) is invisible but the defender is aware that he is being attacked, he may dodge at -4. If the defender makes a Hearing-2 roll, he may also parry or block – still at -4. If he is completely unaware of his attacker, he gets no defense at all! If the attacker is in smoke or unnatural darkness, but the defender is not, he defends normally, since he can see the weapon coming.

Note also that an unseen fighter can safely try things that a normal fighter could never do – or he may just wait in a corner until his foe is exhausted!

All part of a unified system, but handled in such a way as to be realistic and brave enough to allow invisibility to maintain some of its magic.  It’s still not an “instant win” button, but it does allow for duels with invisible swordsmen, wrestling with unseen assassins and other such awesomeness.

More on GURPS Magical Styles: A fully formed Spirit Magic Style

After I posted yesterday on the beginnings of an idea towards a magical style for the spiritualist practitioner, I was pointed to an already existing style in the Magical Styles Fan Netbook.

So, rather than belabor the point, I’ll send you over to this interesting take on the idea, with an even more robust spell list, appropriate skills and perks all picked out. I’m not saying you should always just take what someone else creates, but sometimes – why recreate the wheel?

So, without further ado, The Eyes of Twilight.

Work In Progress: Delving into GURPS Magical Styles

Somehow, I managed to lay hands on a copy of GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles before I actually had Thaumatology proper. It left me scratching my head a bit, but it also fired my imagination with ways to use the default magic system in new ways that made more sense to me than the sometimes arbitrary system of prerequisites that come standard. I thought that might be the best bet for building specialist wizards, like someone who approaches things from a shamanistic or animistic perspective.

There are a number of useful spells for the spirit-minded mage, but you might not ever think to take them, buried as they are deep in the Necromancy college, a decision that I suppose could make sense depending on the theology of your setting, but it does them a disservice in a game where “spirits” aren’t synonymous with “souls” for example. The biggest issue is that they’re all pinned behind the spell Death Vision which doesn’t necessarily suit a character who doesn’t have evil in mind.

So I set out to begin creating a Spiritualist style using the rules presented in Magical Styles, and begin by mining the Necromancy spell list for a core of tools:

Sense Spirit – to detect their presence
Summon Spirit – to interact with the recently departed, or even the long dead for the sufficiently skilled
Animation – summon a spirit into a manufactured vessel
Materialize – to force a spirit to become visible
Solidify – to force a spirit to become tangible
Affect Spirits – allow the mundane target (person or object) to interact with spirits
Skull Spirit – for those of an offensive bent, a spectral assassin
Turn Spirit – to force a spirit to flee from the location
Astral Vision – to see the spirit world
Command Spirit (type) – control or dominate spirits
Entrap Spirit – trap a spirit in an object or location
Repel Spirits – protect an area from spirits
Bind Spirit (type) – like Command, but permanent
Astral Block – more effective protection from spirits for an area, with other in-built protections

There are certainly other spells that this sort of wizard might want, but this is a robust and useful tool-set with a focus on the astral plane. From here, we can work out some alternative prerequisites, skills that suit the feel of the style, and add in some perks that suit as well.

GURPS and Scholarship

Backdated to Sunday as I forgot to hit submit before I called it a night…

If you ever have to wonder why I love GURPS so much, you only have to look to posts like this one from Doug Cole.

When you have this many highly-educated scientists putting their various fields of knowledge together to fix refine a game, you know you’re going to get a system out the other end that demands that you go to the very most extreme corner cases before you can break suspension of disbelief.

Star Frontiers, GURPS Style – Part 1, The Races

Everyone who has been playing tabletop RPGs for a while knows about Star Frontiers.

You don’t? Check here. We’ll wait…

Anyway, many of us cut our teeth on SF role playing using those rules, and that evocative, ridiculous setting. As such, many of us have a remarkable amount of nostalgia associated with it. When Moe Tousignant posted about a fan conversion of the game to use the new D&D 5th Edition rules, I opined than most of us, at some point, will get ’round to making their own conversion of the game to whatever system they favor.

It made me realize that I have always fallen short when trying to convert Star Frontiers to GURPS. I know that many, many others have done their versions of the game and even posted them online, but there’s a certain benefit to trying your own hand at it. You can zoom in on the things you think are game-mechanically relevant to you, and collect all the other details as setting fluff.

Any conversion has to start with the three non-human playable races, and to be honest, that’s where most people peter out when they attempt the conversion. Some things are casually tossed into the race descriptions in the original game that have no real impact on play, while those same things might be modeled in GURPS using an extensive – and expensive – set of advantages.

SFRacesI’ve put together my latest iteration of the races, and I’m posting it here mostly for others to compare to their own notes, though you may of course steal them for your own use. I started out fairly parsimonious, but realized that to do any of the races justice I had to be willing to spend the points to set them apart.

A side note: This does wind up meaning that when you play a Human in GURPS: Star Frontiers, you get something on the order of sixty points to invest in stats, skills and advantages to compensate. This tends to lead directly into a very Pathfinder-esque assumption that humans are the flexible race, the Jacks of all trades, and I think that’s actually a pretty safe place to be in a sci-fi game can fall solidly in the space opera category.

Dralasite [28/40/52/64/76]

All Dralasites have the following advantages:

Switchable for all four standard limbs, takes 5 minutes to absorb or grow a limb [2]; Color Blind [-10]; Double-Jointed [15]; -1 DX [-20]; +2 ST [20]; +2 FP [6]; +2 HP [4]; Acute Taste & Smell 2 [4]; Detect Lies (Per-2) [1]; DR 2 (Tough Skin) [6]

Individual Dralasites may add Extra Arm, Switchable (+5%, takes 5 minutes), alt Extra Leg [12]. This advantage can be taken up to four times, depending on DX (if DX10, 1; if DX12, 1 or 2; if DX14, 1-3, if DX 16+, 1-4);

Vrusk [60]

-1 ST [-10]; -1 HT [-10]; +1 DX [20]; +0.5 Basic Speed [10]; DR 3 [15]; Ambidextrous [5]; Double-Jointed [15]; Extra Legs 8, cannot kick [8]; Acute Smell & Taste 1 [2]; Intuition (only for social dealings, unreliable 8-, -60%) [6]; Incompetence (Swimming) [-1];

Yazirian [60]

-2 ST [-20]; -2 HT [-20]; +1 DX [20]; +1 IQ [20]; +0.75 Basic Speed [15]; Flight (Winged Gliding) [10]; Battle Rage (+4 DX, Trigger – start of combat; Maximum duration – length of the fight; Unreliable – activates on a 5- at the start of the fight) [16]; Night Vision 4 [4]; -2 DX in bright light, mitigated by tinted goggles [-5]

Next time: Equipment & Related Skills