November 27, 2014

Gaming Ballistic's Firing Squad welcomes Hans-Christian Vortisch

Earlier this week I sat down with +Hans-Christian Vortisch , who has made a solid game writing presence being the go-to guy about firearms, especially makes, models, and usage.

We talk about his history in gaming and how he came to write about games, as well as an awful lot about firearms, both using them and modeling their use in RPGs.

Hans' name has come up in many of the interviews I've done on the Firing Squad, and always in a way that gives a nod to his vast erudition regarding the subject.

I have been personally involved in playtesting two of his works, as Lead Playtester for High Tech (with +Shawn Fisher ) and Tactical Shooting.  Both experiences were positive and a heck of a lot of fun.

We speak for about 75 minutes and could easily have gone longer (I woke up at 5am to interview him - he's 7 hours ahead of Minneapolis time). If the video looks a bit jerky at times, we experienced some communications lag, so I chopped out some weird silences.

So if you have a bit more than an hour to spare on this Thanksgiving Day, in between football and a tryptophan coma, give a listen!

Text Transcript (Pending)

November 26, 2014

RAW Grappling and Technical Grappling: Grab Him Better

Finally getting back to the four steps of grappling. In previous posts I talked about grappling from the perspective of someone totally unfamiliar with the concept and application, which was sprung from a SJG Forums thread on the topic. I followed with a note about how to achieve an initial grab using both the Rules as Written (RAW), as well as my expansion, GURPS Martial Arts, Technical Grappling. Along the way, I digressed into defending yourself from grapples and while grappling.

I proposed what is effectively a loose four-step model. Like all models, it's wrong, but hopefully useful ( "All models are wrong; some are useful." G. E. P. Box).

The steps (and the post titles) are:
  1. Grab him
  2. Grab him better
  3. Achieve a dominant position
  4. Win
Grab Him Better - RAW

The concept of step 2 here, where a grapple is improved, hinges very importantly on what rules you are using. Improving  the grapple has limited meaning using the basic rules, since any successful attack with the intent to grapple toggles the "grappled" state. When your options are "zero" and "one," can there really be "one, but better?"

Turns out yes, in some cases, but definitions might have to be a little tortured to get there.

The Moose in the Room: Pin Him

I'm going to come right out and say it. I consider winning the Regular Contest of ST between the two grapplers (you succeed your roll and your opponent fails his on the same turn) an application of Step 4: Win. 

If you succeed in this task, you have rendered your foe completely helpless for ten turns. Most GURPS combats don't last that long. The fight is over at this point. You can rain blows down on him free of charge for ten seconds, stab, twist, fold, spindle, and mutilate with no real restrictions during that time. Oh, sure, the GM might impose a little reality in there if he's feeling like it, but this is the ultimate "I win" button.

Ergo, Step 4.

Grapple Quality in RAW

So what might it mean to improve a grapple other than to pin the guy? Given the mechanical choices available to the grappler, let me go through options without regard to whether they properly qualify as a "better" grapple just yet.

I've color-coded the option titles. Step 2's are bold/green. Step 3's are bold/blue. Step 4's are bold/red. 

Also, some notation [Follow-on] means that the benefit of the improved grapple is a follow-on technique, such as Arm Lock enabling pain or injury. [+ST] means it gives a bonus to a Quick Contest of ST, or improves damage. [+CP] will mean that it enables adding CP to an existing grapple. [-DX] means that it inflicts additional DX penalties. Note that [+CP] implies that it gets additional ST and DX penalties.

So, what activities - other than the already-disqualified Pin - qualify under the Basic Set and Martial Arts as "grab him better?" Let's look at Actions After a Grapple, p. B370 to start.
  • Arm Lock: Addressed in much detail in another post, this definitely qualifies as an improved grapple. When you have successfully trapped your foe's arm in a lock, you get a boost to your ST for the purposes of breaking free, and you have access to crippling and painful options for Step 4: Win. [Follow-on][+ST]
  • Choke Hold: This one's a fatigue attack and requires the same "improved" grapple as the prior entry, Choke or Strangle. See p. B404, but note that you can simply attack the neck directly at a penalty that depends on what skill you're using (Judo makes it easier). [Follow-on]
  • Takedown: Bear your opponent to the ground. This falls, in my taxonomy, under Step 3, Improving Position. It doesn't really improve the grapple, though it does improve the effectiveness of grappling (due to large penalties that accrue if you're prepared for ground fighting and your opponent is not). 
  • Neck Snap or Wrench Limb: Yep, again this is an "I Win" move, not an improved grapple.
  • Choke or Strangle: The Choke/Strangle itself is part of Step 4: Win. But in order to do it, you must have first grappled your foe by the neck. The act of moving from a general grapple of (say) the torso to the more specific neck grapple can be considered an improved grapple. So there's that, but that's best qualified as Shift Grip, below.
Moving on to options from Martial Arts . . . 
  • Inflict Pain: Found on p. 119, but referencing p. B428), applying pain while grappling is one of the few things that ratchet up the DX penalties beyond the usual -4. Total penalties of -6 for Moderate pain to a whopping -10 for being grappled while in Terrible Pain. Inflicting Agony is similar in game-mechanical effect to a Pin. [-DX]
  • Using Your Legs/Switch Arms for Legs: While this is done at a penalty (the usual -2 to DX or skill), it gives a ST bonus that's good for +2 to ST where it matters, or +1 damage where that matters, such as Throws from Locks (swing damage) or offensive Judo Throws (based on thrust, I believe). [+ST]
  • Adding Hands: Definitely improves the grapple, if you didn't start with a two-handed grapple anyway. A two-handed grapple is +5 to ST relative to a one-handed one in the Quick Contest to Break Free. [+ST]
  • Shift Grip: The genesis for Technical Grappling's rules on attacking locations are found here - and you can improve your location by attacking the new one, with slightly modified rules. As noted, if you start by grappling the torso, hit locations using these rules are irrelevant; this is not the case in TG. [Follow-on]
  • Shoving People Around: Not an improvement to the grapple, but may be an improvement in position for Step 3.
  • Sit on Him: This frees up hands and stuff to deal with other foes, or rain death and destruction down on an already-pinned opponent. This nearly qualifies as a Step 2/3 that somewhat paradoxically follows victory!
But not really. Step 1-4 are conceptual, and are not always a linear sequence - this applies both to GURPS grappling (where you can go right to an improved grapple following a Judo Parry) as well as real life.
  • Bear Hug: This is a victory move, part of Step 4 . . . but also references something that is important for improving grapples.

There are other RAW/Martial Arts options, but these are the main ones.

Improved Grapples in the RAW: Summarized

Basically, an improved grapple either enables a follow-on technique such as a throw, lock, or crush, or boosts your ST in appropriate places. There are other position-based "improvements" that might occur, such as a Takedown, but the big two game-mechanical effects are here.

Grab Him Better - Technical Grappling

The entire purpose of the Control Point mechanic in TG is to allow grapples to vary in effectiveness. Against a ST 10 person, every 2 Control Points (CP hereafter) give -1 to DX . . . and the new thing is they also impart -1 to ST. You can not use your full power effectively when restrained.

It's quite possible to have a reasonably strong, reasonably trained guy (say ST 12 and Wrestling at DX+2) "only" rolling 1d for Control Points on any successful normal attack. The usual roll will be 3 or 4 CP, which is either -1 or -2 to ST and DX
The original rule in my first draft was to have odd CP totals give DX penalties, and even ones give ST. So 3 CP would be -2 to DX and -1 to ST. The playtesters and I killed that as a concept varying between a speed bump and treadles (picture right) pretty quickly, instead favoring the "divide by 2 and drop fractions" rule, which is simpler in play.
Since a RAW grapple is -4 to DX, one can make a gentle equivalence that an 8 CP grapple is roughly equivalent to the grapple in the Basic Set - at least on a normal human (DX penalties are lower against much stronger creatures; 8 CP against a ST 20 guy is -2 to DX, -4 to ST, not -4 to both).

In any case the question of grapple quality in TG is pretty straightforward: did your CP total go up?

Grapple Quality in TG

In addition to the options that I'll cover again for completeness, there's the first, obvious option for improving the quality of the grapple . . . attack.

Attack Again: You can (and should!) make repeated attacks to increase your CP total against a foe. Eventually, you can achieve the equivalent of a Pin by stacking up so many penalties that your foe cannot roll dice if you're strong and skilled enough (the book suggests a CP limit equal to Trained ST, so if you're Trained ST 16, you can't amass and retain more than 16 CP, which of course will bring a normal guy down to ST 2 DX 2, and he can only attempt a skill at all if he's got it at DX+1 or greater. [+CP]

Attack to Regain CP: Because CP must be spent to cause injury in the basic rules (house rules do exist to eliminate this), it is often necessary (or at least desirable) to alternate between rolling for (say) Arm Lock damage or applying a blood choke and amassing more CP to retain a high level of restraint on your foe. I'll admit this isn't the most elegant mechanic, but it does produce mostly realistic effects, jives with my personal experience in grappling more or less, and makes the choice to cause permanent injury have some risk to it. [+CP]

So, here we go again, in a very brief TG-centric version:
  • Using Your Legs/Switch Arms for Legs: This one is also a fall-out of the CP mechanic. Adding limbs allows you do more and more CP, based on the combined Basic Lift of the body parts. [+CP]
  • Adding Hands: As above, attacking with more hands gives more CP, improving the grapple. 
  • Shift Grip: Moving to a different hit location is a gateway to other moves, and qualifies. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Choke Hold: Again, the hold itself can be considered an improved grapple by virtue of the neck hit location and that the attack includes it. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Arm Lock: This is very specifically an attack (as it is in RAW) that requires the limb to be locked to already be grappled. However, the Arm Lock attempt does additional CP as well (it's an honest-to-goodness attack, with the special effect of locking the limb). Once locked, that limb can't be used for anything other than attacking to Break Free. and immobilizing an limb is generally somewhere between "improved grapple" and "I Win," but closer to improved grapple. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Inflict Pain: Still there, and still nasty. Now referenced to CP spent, but locked limbs get double benefit, so a fairly low CP lock can cause really awful penalties - and those are whole body penalties, not limited to just the limbs being torqued. [-DX]
  • Takedown: Nope. Still not an improved grapple.
  • Shoving People Around: Not an improvement to the grapple, but may be an improvement in position for Step 3.
  • Sit on Him: Basically a Leg Grapple that takes advantage of the rules for weight advantage, which is really Step 3.
  • Choke or Strangle: Grappling specific hit locations and "paying" full penalties for them is now a thing. Still, the move itself is part of Step 4.
  • Neck Snap or Wrench Limb: Not an improved grapple.
  • Bear Hug: Still a victory move
Unique Options for Technical Grappling

Some of the usual options above still apply, some don't, plus there's the whole Control Point concept. But there are a couple of options for improved grapples that are unique to TG.
  • Grappling of  Stability Points: TG introduces the concept of stability, where if you amass enough CP against a limb, it no longer counts as providing full support, and CP spent on balance-upsetting moves have double effect. The practical upside of this is that if you grapple a leg of a standing man for (say) 6 CP, for -3 to ST and DX, he's unstable. He might only be at -1 to ST and DX for the rest of his body (see Referred Control and Whole-Body Actions, pp. 5-6) but if you spend 4 CP to take him down, he's at -8 in that Quick Contest rather than the (TG-usual) penalties to DX and ST imparted only by CP. [Follow-on]
  • Armed Grapple: The addition of leverage, especially with sticks and flexible weapons like garrotes, gives a per die bonus to CP. Grappling using a short stick can be very, very nasty, as not only does it multiply the CP imparted by an attack, but it greatly increases the maximum you can do. [+CP][Follow-on]
  • Attack Maneuvers and Options: You can apply more CP to a move, thus improving the initial grapple, by selecting options such as All-Out Attack (Strong) and Committed Attack (Strong). Not having a variable effect mechanism for grappling makes these attack variants pretty meaningless in the RAW. [+CP]
Improved Grapples in TG; Summarized

The short version is you increase the grapple quality by racking up more CP, causing pain, or grappling something like a limb that allows a cool follow-on move or a a magnified impact (such as stability-impairing grapple of a limb).

Parting Shot

Improving your grapples in the real world is based on posture, position, selective and cumulative advantage in restriction your foe's limb use, and applying leverage and weight to deny movement.

Technical Grappling was designed to allow nuance in all of those, so there's an explicit mechanic in the form of control points for improved grapple quality, and the usual implicit ones in things that enable a grapple to be more nasty. The bonuses to ST you get to resist your foe's attempts to break free are replaced by penalties to his ST, which will remove fewer CP from his attacjs to break free, plus the DX penalties that make a successful Break Free attack less likely to begin with. Embrace the death spiral of grappling!

In the Basic Set, the implicit improvements are still present, and the explicit ones tend to be found in pretty substantial bonuses to ST for Contests.

In either case, it is possible to make a grapple "better" once one has occurred, as well as follow a strategy of a less-advantageous initial grapple leading into a more-advantageous one.

And all of that is without considering posture and position - which is coming next.

November 24, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Random Thought Table: To Conjure The Unknown)

I finally finish up my review of this issue, Alternate Dungeons, with +Steven Marsh's Random Thought Table.

Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem. Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways.

The previous reviews for the issue are:

Pointless Slaying and Looting+Sean Punch )
Dungeons of Mars (Phil Masters)
From the Bottom Up+Matt Riggsby )
Eidetic Memory: Good Dungeons+David Pulver )
Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming +Christopher R. Rice )

and of course . . . 

Random Thought Table: To Conjure the Unknown +Steven Marsh )

Summary: Steven looks at how to shake up a bog-standard dungeon crawl by taking a bit of a mutually-exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive look at how to alter the concept. Bring something new to the table. Add something that wasn't there before. Take something away that usually is, or take a trope and tweak it hard.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The style is conversational and a good bookend to the issue. The execution is solid, covering the relevant parts of the topic mostly by example. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  Comprehensively covers the topic of how to make a standard dungeon crawling campaign feel not-so-standard. The examples he chooses come from a variety of game systems as well as concepts, so there's a deep well here. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  In a way, this can't really be "drop-in," in that there are no real worked examples and most of the advice covers campaign preparation and worldbuilding. The sections on additive and transformative game tweaking, though, could be applied to the next episode of a campaign, though - so it's not completely "do it from scratch or forget it" - there's a real possibility to take some of this stuff and weave it into the right game. 1 points.

Overall: 6/10. The rating doesn't really do the article justice, and that's an artifact of the point scale having 40% of the weighting being stuff you can rip off and just use. This is a fun read, and rounds out the article nicely: if you're going for an "alternate" dungeon, how can you make it feel differently than a normal campaign beyond the usual "we're using X magic system instead of the usual Y" mechanical trade-offs.

Would I use it? Yes. Were I planning a dungeon crawl campaign that was a bit different than the usual, this article makes a fine guidepost.

Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you're approaching the article as not-me.

  • Lack of Proscriptive Options: It wasn't really the point of the article, but if you're looking for someone to tell you "if you want an alternate dungeon, do X, and here's a worked example for GURPS," then you didn't find it here. That would bump Writing/Execution down to 0 points (well written, solid, but neither distracting nor particularly engaging), and maybe Inspiration down to 2-3. 
  • Inspiration is Drop-in Utility: I give utility ratings based on what you can pretty much directly pluck from the article and start using immediately. If you are often planning new campaigns or have easy entry to different ideas and are only lacking some inspiration, then this might be 2-3 points.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: As low as 4/10 if you really have to have worked examples given to you to make it sing. As high as 8/10 if the inspiration makes it drop-in for your gaming needs. 

November 23, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming)

I finally return to Pyr#3/72 (after Pyr#3/73 is already out!) to finish up my review of this issue, Alternate Dungeons.

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming (+Christopher R. Rice )

Summary: Christopher goes for a two-fer, in that either the Imitator template or the video game achievements sub-sections are basically complete article concepts as stand-alones. The Imitator concept takes multi-classing to a mechanical extreme, allowing selection from a number of templates. The video game sub-section presents several (more than 10) plot devices from games and implements them mechanically in GURPS.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The Imitator template, powers, new power-ups, and detailed full-page under the hood box make me almost give up my default distaste for the GURPS template format as a nod to how complete it is. Almost. The other video game tropes are short and to the point, but clearly understandable representations of the desired ability. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes were my favorite part of the article, as any of them might make a good "oh, you've come from a video gaming background, we can emulate that style with . . . " switch. The Imitator concept is interesting, but one can get the breadth needed simply by waiving the need to build from templates; if the GM says "templates mandatory" approach, consider this a cheat code. Even if you don't like the concepts themselves, the rigor with which the powers and abilities are designed is worthwhile. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes section contains rules switches that are utterly drop-in. The Imitator template might only be available at the start, but between the under the hood box and the detailed workup of the base Imitation power and Emulation ability, this can be obtained piece by piece if needed. All of them can drop into an existing DF campaign. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. Two articles for the price of one, almost. All of the concepts presented can be found in some of the video games that inspired the Dungeon Fantasy series and concept even more than Dungeons and Dragons. Being able to borrow explicitly, rather than implicitly, from these progenitors is an interesting take on the genre, and new to me since I was never much involved with those games. The template is well presented (my own biases aside) but a concept made necessary only by the usual enforcement of "must use templates" for Dungeon Fantasy. The ten-or-so other mini-tropes are each of them interesting, and I really need to revisit the soul eating thing. That one is a fascinating alternative to character points that would take a game in an entirely new direction - and yet still fall within both the DF genre and respectful to the computer games from which it sprung (and which co-exist with it on PCs and consoles today).

Would I use it? Mostly. The Imitator template and power set isn't for me, but that's because I use templates less as niche protection and more as cheats to save time. If someone wanted to free-form design a character, I'd probably let them. Three of the tropes (the mini-map, leveling up your sword, and the supremely cool soul eating section) are good choices for how I like to play games. That's more than enough to make this a worthwhile read for me.

Biases Aside: I'm going to start adding this to my reviews. This is an alternate scoring if you're approaching the article as not-me.

  • Dislike of Template Format: I more or less loathe the GURPS Template presentation style (though I'm very, very fond of templates as implemented with GURPS Character Assistant; I just can't stand reading them). I cannot think of a better way to execute a template concept as it's presented, other than +Sean Punch's Pointless Slaying and Looting that is found within this very issue. If you love templates and your eyes don't glaze over reading the giant wall of stats, the writing score would go up to 1 point.
  • Mandatory Templates: If you run a game that enforces templates, as I would not, then the drop in utility of this article goes to 4 points. 
  • Limited Selection: Of the video tropes section, there are three I love, and the others I'd probably not use. If you also don't like templates and are disinterested in some of the options, you might hit Background, Inspiration and Eiphany and Drop-in as 2 points; I can't see how you go lower than 3 on Drop-in; everything in it is available for this purpose.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: As high as 9/10 if you don't share my views on things, or as low as 5/10 if video game emulation or stealing ideas from it are not your cup of tea.

November 21, 2014

Return to the Mad Archmage

After a six-week hiatus, +Erik Tenkar , +Peter V. Dell'Orto , +Tim Shorts , +Joe D , and a new player Reece, playing Bronan the 3rd level fighter.

We carefully negotiate the 5% slope, assuming Bronan the level 3 fighter (yay, more meat shields!) cannot detect it.

After securing healing potions and whatnot, we head to something that looked like a New Yorker flipping a bird to the dungeon, and find a 20x20 room. With a letter in it.

We head back the other way, because as Peter says, everything in his dungeon marked with a letter is "Capital A" bad.

We need to open a door, so Rul and Mirado biff it, but Minister "he who rolls 1's" . . . rolls a 1 to open the door. There's glass on the floor, broken bottles and such. We search the room while Mirado waits outside for the rest of us to be teleported elsewhere.

We search to no avail, and move on.

We keep searching, find a door or three. We start kicking again, and once again Rul and Mirado wimp out. The freakin' STR 17 Cleric/Mage kicks in the door. 

Shouldn't you be studying spells or praying or something?No, today is legs day.

We find orange cones, yellow tape, and it looks like a storage room. We decide we'll set up coins in a "lane change" configuration into a spiked pit, and just level up while we sleep as they all go right into the pit. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

We go find more doors to kick down, and this time, we find stairs down!

We decide to head downstairs, where the monsters are more badass and the experience points will pile up. If we live.

We enter a room with nine guys wearing blue surcoats and mail working out, all engaged in fight training. We debate whether actually talking to them would violate our idiom. We send Reece in there to "get massive." And we go in and talk. 

They notice us, and slowly arm themselves. One of them goes and bangs on a nearby door.

We ask if they don't mind if we do a set? No? They summon a half-orc, who says "volunteers for the arena?" We stutter and stammer a bit. More warriors come from the south. We stall. Another voice from the back (that would be Joe D's halfling). He steps forward. They ask what color we're fighting for, and if not, what the f**k are you doing here?

Mirado tries to ask about the arena, finds out that this is the blue team (no surprise there). They ask him if he's a good fighter. "Better than you," he says, hefting his ogre head.

Oh, it is so on.

First blood or first death? Death first, shouts the halfling.

We place bets within ourselves on whether Peter gets killed. Ours is a different kind of party. 

They tie for initiative, and someone tries to cast a spell on Mirado, but he nails him with a solid hit roll and hits for 8 HP. They trade blows for a bit. They seem evenly matched at first, but we note that he's adding +9 to his roll for level. 

"Do you yield?" the blue haasks?

"No!" Mirado shouts. 

The blue guy tags him again; even against Peter's AC 18, this guy has a 55% chance to hit, and Peter's dice are not with him. 

"I take no pride in beating my lessers," he asks Mirado, who has already taken 26 HP of damage. He yields, and Roscoe (Joe D) collects his 10 cp. The foe takes Mirado's silver dagger in tribute . . . and heals him for 5 HP. Fighter and some sort of spellcaster too. 

At this point, there are about a dozen humans, two large trolls wearing blue tabards.

We decide that we're going to beat the trolls to death with the halfling. It's traditional

There are four factions. The blues, greens, reds, purples, and whites. The blues are the only ones who would have spared us, and the purples are those looking to hire, perhaps. 

Mirado: We're happy to fight. For gold.
Blue Guy: The gnome (halflng) can work concessions.
Roscoe: I just won money off of this shit, I'll run your m********f***ing concessions stand for you.
The purples are the most likely to embrace us rather than enslave us. The blues don't need us. 
Oh, what the hell. We'll follow that railroad.
We go find the arena, which is impressive as hell. Rare hardwoods, stadium seating. Nothing's currently going on.

We do a reconnoiter to see if we can get back to the stairs without crossing through blue territory. We find a split corridor, but they do join up, so there's an escape.

We ignore the challenge of battle in the purple arena, and start kickin' in doors. Minister heals up Mirado to 35 HP. "35HP is plenty," says Mirado, tempting fate. We continue to explore, finding lots of variously colored rooms, color coded to the factions they belong to. We also find a betting parlor and a heavily locked door.
"Hey, hey, hey. Let's try the subtle way," says our halfling. He rolls 97. "Have at it, meat puppets."
Minister casts a Knock spell, but the door is cursed, but he saves. We find lots of loot: 6,000sp, 4,000gp, 19 gems, and 2 pieces of jewelry. 

The curse would have been 1 HP per day until the treasure was returned. Ouch.

We debate leaving, because the jewelry could be worth a ton, but instead keep on. We find a statue of the God of Atheletics (who we decide is His Lord Ahnold).

We wander and explore a bit, and come to a door, and all the high-ST people and all the rest of us beat on the door, and are defeated. We pour acid on the door, and Bronan busts it open. Finally.

This is a jail, or at least cells. A giant scoprion, a bonesnapper, a clacker, a panther that fades in and out - a phase panther, and a gnome and a half-elf handling the panther. The panther is outside the cage. Yeesh.

They threaten us. we threaten back. The halfling wants to pet the phase panther. Mirado pays for the broken door, encouraging tyranny.

We move on, and wander for a while more. We find another tiny door. We go through it, and find a colony of 12 "eye-killers." This is not good. We try and withdraw, successfully. We keep looking, and find skeletons instead. Rul pulls out his +3 vs undead sword.

The halfling is first, and he tags one for 3HP. Rul hits for 10HP. Bronan pushes his way in, and hits for 12 HP. Minister goes for the funky undead turning, which does not work.

Our halfling gets tagged for 4HP, and that's the extent. We whittle away a bit more at the skeletons.

Next round, we kill them all, and look for treasure. We find a 2-foot diameter copper disc on the back wall, with etchings on it - it looks magical. Minister sees the equivalent of a scroll of lighning bolt, etched into the copper foil, 7th level equivalent.

We decide to hit one more door. Rul kicks in the door and finds a turkish bath.

We bail. Heading back to the surface to cash out.


So we killed two skeletons, but stole a bunch of money.

3800gp for the gems, 2,500gp for the jewelry. 6,300 gp for gems and jewelry, 600gp in silver, 4,000gp. Total is 2180gp, 2159 XP for rooms and combat. 4339XP each, bonus pushes to 4,990XP and 2180 gp.

So all in all we had a gigantic amount of fun, but it was a fairly lousy run given where we are in required XP for leveling up. Bronan does level up, though, as does Roscoe.

November 20, 2014

Melee Academy: Arm Lock in detail

Arm Lock as a combat technique has had a long and somewhat storied history in GURPS. As a result of a Forum thread (that I'm not going to link to here; it's not the point) I went back and looked at commentary and execution on the technique since 4e came out in 2004.

It's worth looking at - what actually happens in this technique.

Arm Lock in the Raw

So, firstly, I want to note that the use of standing arm locks has a long and well documented history. The pictures to the right are from Fiore, I believe (I really need to get the original works on that one). 

All of them invoke the same basic principles: put the joint in a position where further motion is injurious, and apply leveraged force such that your foe has very limited ability to actually apply his strength, both due to unfavorable angles as well as the position of the muscles and joints being difficult for the locked person to apply significant muscular force. Some of these moves are quite painful as well, though pain can be ignored and doesn't impact everyone equally.

There are two ways to apply an arm lock in broad strokes - offensively and defensively, and this is reflected in the GURPS rules for applying them. In nearly every case, you first must be in contact, if not control, of some part of your opponent, most often the arm (but a shoulder lock can cut that pretty finely at times).

The broad strokes are basically

  • Make contact with the limb and secure a grip
  • Move either yourself, your foe, or both into the proper position; this can be quite dynamic depending on what both of you do
  • Apply force to the joint. Slow force will usually produce discomfort, then pain, then a break or (more likely) a dislocation. Fast "vibratory" force will break or dislocate the joint pretty instantly. 

There is often movement associated with such locks. This is both for positioning, as in step 2 above, or to get the heck out of the way of a return strike. You can see in the six images to the right that in five of them, the unlocked arm is basically out of play (the bottom left is a maybe/maybe not). The other option is some sort of leg stomp, though the availability of that move will vary widely depending on what both fighters are doing. No guarantees it can be done.

Defensive Standing Arm Locks with the Basic Set and Martial Arts

Some say this is the primary way that this technique is used in GURPS, and I won't necessarily disagree. The basic pathway here is straight-forward:

  • Parry an incoming blow with Wrestling or Judo (or another skill if you have the right gateways, such as Technique Adaptation) when your foe throws his attack. This happens, obviously, on your foe's turn.
  • On your own turn, step into close combat and attack using Arm Lock; your foe defends as usual. If you succeed, his arm is trapped and locked. This counts as being grappled.
  • Your foe may try and break free, but you're at a significant advantage (+4 because he's locked, and you're at +5 if you have him with two hands), and every failed attempt nets another penalty.
  • On the turn after that, if you want, you can rock his world. Apply pain or injury, try a throw from a lock, or whatever. This is almost always a Quick Contest, but that may depend on the technique you use. You get ST bonuses for Wrestling and such, but it doesn't look like the +4 for Arm Lock and +5 for grappling with two hands applies here - that's only for breaking free. The injury is based on the Quick Contest, with damage equal to margin of victory
  • If your foe is standing, you can also employ the ridiculously nasty Throws from Locks (Martial Arts, p. 118). It's resolved as a quick contest; win it and do swing crushing, plus damage bonuses for Wrestling if you have them, to the limb. This can include the neck, if you have him in a Head Lock. That damage is swing, x1.5 for hit location. It's basically like hitting him in the neck with a shortsword in terms of injury, and flexible DR is not effective here. Yowzers.
Instead of injury, you can also apply pain with locks, which will impair him as well as hurt his ability to break free.

The real hell about this "defensive" arm lock is that while it does require a Wrestling or Judo Parry, there's no additional penalty associated with this. You parry, and the next turn you can slap on that lock maneuver by rolling what is often (if you're wise) your unarmed grappling skill +4 or +6 (the +6 is for those with GMs that don't beat you with their +Peter V. Dell'Orto 's DMG for asking for Technique Mastery on Arm Lock, and allow it).

So let's look at how that works, with a focused build:

Mr. Lockenkey: ST 12, DX 12, Judo-14 (DX+2), Arm Lock-18 (DX+6).
For 4 more points and GM permission, pick up Technique Mastery (Arm Lock) [1], Arm Lock-20 [2 more], and Power Grappling, which is so evilly useful I suggested eliminating it in TG.
We'll put him against an unspecialized but not-sucky fighter.

Mr Dodeca: ST 12, DX 12, Combat Skills-12, HT 12.

Since we're basing this fight on a defensive Arm Lock, I chose Judo. You'll see why in minute. 

If he can, Mr. Lockenkey goes first and takes All-Out Defense. Technicall this would count as "Turn Zero," and I'm granting him the benefit of that move, since that's the way I've actually seen Arm Lock experts (in GURPS) behave.

Mr Dodeca [starts his turn] steps into close combat to punch (punches are Reach C!). He will hit 75% of the time.

Mr. Lockenkey actually hopes Mr. Dodeca does hit, and when he does, he does a Judo Parry, +2 to Parry for the All-Out Defense, and +3 for a retreat, because that's one of the real benefits of Judo. His Parry is 15, so barring a critical miss, he's going to successfully parry. He is now at Reach 1.

Mr Lockenkey [starts his turn] having parried Mr Dodeca's punch, steps back into Close Combat to roll his Arm Lock-18, unpenalized, He chooses to make this attack Deceptive at -2, for -1 to his foe's defense. 

Mr Dodeca has Parry-9 or Dodge-9. Depending on his skill, he may well elect to retreat, giving him a net (including the -1 for Deceptive Attack) Parry-9 with Wrestling, Sumo Wrestling, or Brawling, or Parry-11 with Boxing, Judo, or Karate. Dodging, he'll be at Dodge-11.

Mr Lockenkey will capture the arm 2 times in 3 against a fighter that isn't trained in one of the superior retreating skills, or 1 time in 3 against a foe that dodges or is trained.

If the arm is not parried, they are now in close combat, and Mr Dodeca can just punch, and Mr. Lockenkey's defenses no longer benefit from the +2 for All-Out Defense, dropping him to Parry-13, still a successful Parry (and thus an opening for an Arm Lock) five times in six.

Let's assume Mr. Lockenkey successfully captures and locks the arm, using both hands to do so.

Mr Dodeca [starts his second turn] now is in an Arm Lock. He must attempt to break free, using a Quick Contest of ST. He is ST 12. Mr Lockenkey is also ST 12 . . . but gets +5 for grappling with two hands and an additional +4 for having a lock on Mr. Dodeca. This is ST 12 vs. ST 21, and Mr. Dodeca has a 2% chance of breaking free. This is basically hopeless, and should not be attempted.

Mr Dodeca's only opportunity here is likely to try and punch Lockenkey in the face or body. Per Martial Arts, p. 119, all attacks, not just the ones with the grappled body part, are at -4 when you are grappled. So he's starting at Skill-8. He may well want to go Committed Telegraphic here, to bring that up to Skill-14, or even All-Out, for Skill-16 - targeting the face to try and force a knockout or stun. The only other option is to either AoA(Double) to attack and break free (but it'll still be ST 12 vs ST 17). He AoA's to the face for the attempted stun. 62% chance to hit, less the 50% chance Lockenkey gets for his Judo Parry-10 (no retreat, no All-Out Defense). So about 1 time in 3, Dodeca will hit the face. He will roll 1d-2 for damage, and 1/3 of the time, no damage will result. 2/3 of the time, enough injury will be done to invoke a shock penalty and stun roll, which will (again) only fail 1/3 of the time.

So, let's see: 62% chance to hit, 50% chance to fail the defense, 66% to roll enough damage to cause a stun check, which fails about 25% of the time. Chance of success: 5%. Still better than the 2% chance of winning that quick contest, though.

Mr. Lockenkey [starts his second turn] is now able to apply injury via a quick contest of Arm Lock vs. ST or HT, which in this case are both 12. On the average, Lockenkey will, on the average do 6 points of damage, which is neither crippling nor a major wound. Success by 7+ will be both.

At that point, Dodeca is at -4 to ST and DX for breaking free in addition to -4 to DX for being grappled. He's basically toast. Lockenkey will cripple his arm eventually (likely next turn).  

Lockenkey could also have invoked Throws from Locks, which is again Arm Lock-18 vs. Dodeca's omnipresent 12. Swing damage of 1d+2 will result - actually less damage on the average than the lock., and here Wrestling at DX+2 would increase this to 1d+4, which on the average would cripple the arm.

Offensive Standing Arm Locks

Basically, this is the same thing, but first the aggressor has to grapple the foe. Not grapple the limb, but the foe. It's perfectly cool to grapple the torso on your first turn, resist his breaking free (he's at -4 to DX for being grappled, you're at +5 to ST for grappling with two hands), then use Arm Lock to capture the arm (again, he's at -4 to DX for being grappled), then injury as usual. It takes an extra turn for the attacker.

Ground Fighting

To do this well, you obviously need the Ground Fighting technique (MA, p. 73) and spend th 5 points required to buy it off completely. You also want Wrestling rather than Judo or Sumo Wrestling in this case. You won't be doing a ton of retreating, and that ST bonus is sweet sweet goodness.

Here, you grapple your foe (likely on the torso), and perform a takedown, which is skill, ST, or DX vs. your foe's skill, ST, or DX. In the example above, that's Judo-14 vs 12, winning about 2/3 of the time. Once you both are on the ground, unless your foe is similarly trained, he attacks at -4 and defends at -3, while you attack at no penalty and defend at -1. Combined with the generic -4 for being grappled, and a downed foe attacks at -7 and defends at -5, which is a whole lot to overcome - even Skill-18/Defense-12 becomes Skill-11, Defense-7.

Parting Shot

This workup obviously doesn't touch much on Technical Grappling. I'll save that for another post. The differences are subtle but important, and worth going over in detail.

Ultimately, against a less-skilled foe, especially an unarmed one, the Judo Parry/Arm Lock combination is really, really dangerous. Where it falls down a bit is against weapons. Not a knife or Reach C weapon, since that will follow the pattern above (though only Judo defends at no penalty vs. weapons). The smart Reach 1 fighter (such as with a sword or mace) will keep his distance, likely using a combination of Wait and Committed Attack (Two Steps) to keep the Arm Locker from stepping into close combat to grapple with him and lock him up. Attack from Reach 1 and then step back to Reach 2, and he'll have to do a Committed Attack (Two Steps) to chase you down. If you take two steps, attack at Reach 1, and back off to reach 3. Now even if he parries you, he can't close in and lock you up without a pretty hairy move. Plus, of course, successful active defenses against Mr. Lockenkey do damage to his limbs unless he's smart and wears armor on his arms.

Which he'd better if he want to try this sort of tricksiness in lethal combat.

The other thing that Dodeca and his like can do is bring friends. Note that even in the most advantageous case, Lockenkey is in close combat with Dodeca for at least two turns, inviting indefensible attacks from the rear, or forcing him to use movement or drop hands from his grapple to defend. You can only parry once per limb, so it's possible to saturate defenses to the point where Lockenkey has to release his kraken or take hits.

November 19, 2014

Tenkar's Hirelings

+Erik Tenkar asked about hirelings. +Peter V. Dell'Orto wrote about them as well.

A comment over on Erik's blog feed made me think back to a campaign I ran (the Blasingdell campaign, the origin of Sterick the Red). It was a Fantasy game, before Dungeon Fantasy was a GURPS line. It was a map centered on the town of Blasingdell, and it had the fun of being started off by a "prequel adventure" which was an unabashed railroad ending in a set-piece battle that left all but one of the PCs dead, and the paladin possessed by Sterick's spirit. The Big Bad was back.

Anyway, fast forward to the actual campaign, and the PCs had hirelings. Lots of them, actually. They had some basic fighters, as well as a small line of archers and/or crossbowmen. Since I'd out-and-out ripped off the cosmology from The Deed of Paksenarrion, they were probably Yeomen of Gird or followers of Tir.

That was a time where I never knew how many players would show up at my table. I ran the game out of my basement, with a 4x8' sheet of plywood on take-apart legs as my stage. I think I could have as few as four and as many as fifteen players around the table on any given day. People would use the game to introduce their friends to RPGs, and so when they showed up (and I almost always knew them - the group was mostly connected through the Hwa Rang Do Minneapolis Academy, but not all) I'd hand them a henchman fighter. If they came back, I'd buff them up a bit.

The inclusion of henchmen allowed for - nearly made mandatory - some decent idea of formation tactics. It also allowed me to throw in some real numbers into the opposition.

The utility of such guys - though not nearly to the extent that Peter's DF game has used them - was pretty high. They could protect you if you went down. They gave a shield wall to anchor offensive and defensive actions. And they provided a ready-made way of getting new players into a game by virtue of a pre-existing sheet, with some history.