Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sola Scriptura I

This begins my Sola Scriptura series, wherein I go through the sundry GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements chapter-by-chapter, trying to do a thorough review. If it ever matters, I’m assuming GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Magic, but no other GURPS supplements, but I drop more than a few D&D references since let’s face it, we’re talking about Dungeon Fantasy. The title comes from the Protestant idea that the Bible is self-interpreting. Don’t take the religious angle too seriously; I’ve been an atheist since age 6.

Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers

Chapter 1: Dungeon Fantasy Templates

First, some overall notes about the template stats. The average stat on a template is 12, other than DX, which is 13. The groupings of these stats are more interesting. There are the low-ST (10-11) templates, which are most of them: Bard, Druid, Martial Artist (!), Swashbuckler (!), Thief, and Wizard. Their relatively low ST scores indicate they shouldn’t be in combat, which definitely does not describe the Martial Artist and the Swashbuckler. To me, this indicates that beginning players should shun these templates; the higher ST Barbarian and Knight are easier to play for newbies wanting to do some hurt. Only the Barbarian has extra HP by default; the other templates are in the HP 10-14 range. Thus, they’ll all be down in a couple of good sword blows, which is normal for GURPS combat.

DX tends to be higher since there are no low-DX templates. Most are in the DX 12-13 range, and there are some high DX templates: Knight, Martial Artist, Scout, Swashbuckler, and Thief. Again, this shows that the Martial Artist and Swashbuckler will have high weapon skills but not much damage, and will appeal to those players willing to exploit the GURPS combat rules.

IQ mostly falls into two groups: spellcasters and everyone else. The spellcasters—Bard, Cleric, Druid, Wizard—have IQ 14-15, and need their IQ to cast spells. Most everyone else keeps his IQ at 10. The Thief, at IQ 13, is the biggest exception. As the Thief has a high DX (15) and a moderate IQ (13), this is the template meant to load up on mundane skills. Most templates have Will and Per at IQ. The Barbarian and Scout, loaded with wilderness skills, both bought up to Per 12 and 14 respectively, and the Wizard has lowered his IQ 15 to Per 12. The Holy Warrior has Will 14, which helps mimic the high saving throws of the D&D paladin.

HT always is in the 11-13 range. There aren’t many HT skills, and HT is a rather boring stat. You need it, but it’s mostly passive; you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you need to rely on your HT. Only the Wizard, who lives and dies by spells alone, has extra FP; Energy Reserve is not at all in this supplement.

Most templates have their Basic Speed and Move at 6. In play, this has a weird effect of having many characters on the same initiative count, so you might want to have house rules to sort out the logjam for your order. The Martial Artist, Scout, and Swashbuckler have Basic Speed 7.00, letting them go first; they, and the Barbarian and Thief move at 7 or 8 (that’s the Martial Artist that goes at top speed), leaving them to mobility.

Now, template by template:

Barbarian. With his high ST and High Pain Threshold, he’s meant to be a tank in combat, and with his Per 12 and Outdoorsman, he’s meant to help get your group get to the dungeon. His Gigantism will lower his chances to hit since he’ll be bigger than many foes, which will keep him from doing the usual combat exploits (Hit Location and Deceptive Attack) until he gets a few more points. The supplement doesn’t touch on this, but it does mention that his weapons and armor will be pricier. His optional advantages play up combat (Combat Reflexes, Striking ST), the wild (Animal Empathy, Lifting ST), and just what a bad motherfucker this guy is (Fit, Rapid Healing).

He’s not meant to shun combat; his Social Stigma (Minority Group) gives him a -2 to reactions. I’m not sure how much that affects reactions in the dungeon; do your orcs really care that the barbarian is a bumpkin? I can’t see that being important. This will keep him from doing much in town, which plays up his wilderness skills. His optional disadvantages tend towards being a dumbass (Easy to Read, Gullibility), being a hot head (Berserk, Impulsiveness), and being unlikeable (Odious Personal Habit, Ugly). It won’t be too much of a problem to make sure the Barbarian’s disadvantage points aren’t a gift.

If a player makes a Barbarian, to please him, be sure to come up with things where being tough or being Grizzly Adams are important. To let the others have something to do, make a social situation.

This gives me an idea: a list of situations. We have three from the barbarian, which are wilderness exploration, toughness, and social interaction; of course, we have melee and ranged combat, and dungeon exploration. Throw in urban exploration as well. That gives us seven so far.

Bard. The Bard is the anti-Barbarian. Not only is he a spell-casting wuss, but also he’s social. Charisma and Voice give him good reactions, and thus he excels when trying to shun combat. Diplomacy and Fast-Talk reinforce this. I think everyone should be doing this anyways, but if someone is playing a Bard, talking should be another way to handle an encounter, gainsaid to combat. Bard-Song abilities and spells are also good for swaying others. The Bard’s optional advantages have many which help his social interactions (Appearance, Charisma, Smooth Operator); Eidetic Memory and Wild Talent give more of a jack-of-all-trades feel.

Most of the Bard’s disadvantages involve how he handles others as well. I’m on record as saying that Compulsive Lying and Lecherousness are going to be a problem justifying in Dungeon Fantasy (and frankly Lecherousness is overpriced, period). I’d stay away from the Odious Personal Habit, since that takes away from one of the Bard’s key strengths, that being reactions. Some will lead him to more exploration (Curious and Xenophilia). Personally, I like those disadvantages, being something of a non-combat Impulsiveness or Overconfidence, as they give the GM an excuse to force everyone to keep moving.

Obviously, if a player makes a Bard, he needs social situations and urban adventures tend to have loads of them. This template will have trouble in combat, especially against non-sapient foes, which are not susceptible to his Mind Control spells. The old D&D 3e advice for Bards was to use your bow often, and that seems to apply here too. Since he has no melee spells, he might be worth less than the Wizard might in a hand-to-hand fight, as the Wizard can try to use Acid Jet or something when up close. The bard is also useless in the wilderness, with no wilderness skills and no NPCs to schmooze.

Cleric. This is John-Eric Cleric from Men & Magic, and his strengths are his spells and his Holy abilities. Like D&D clerics, he’s here to heal, and has many mundane healing skills as well (Diagnosis, Esoteric Medicine, Surgery). He does a little melee combat too. His optional advantages are wont to bolster his spell casting and Holy abilities (more Power Investiture, more FP) or make him tougher (Fearlessness, Mind Shield, Resistant to Disease). It’s a boring list, and he only gets 20 points anyways. I’d go with one of more Holy abilities, more Power Investiture or FP for spell casting, or a racial template. If you want to go with Healer or Luck, those are fine, but the idea is to pick one thing and hang your hat on it.

I’ll get to Holy abilities when I get to that chapter, including the obligatory mother-may-I known as True Faith. You can guess my attitude towards it.

The Cleric has Exorcism as a primary skill. This gives me the idea to have evil entities that don’t respond well to a beating, but instead need a Cleric putting his hands and cross on the affected victim or object and screaming “Out, out, damn spot!” The other characters can be beating away demons to keep the Cleric safe, while the Cleric channels the extreme exorcist from “Fear of Girls."

From a GM’s standpoint, some thought needs to happen for the first disadvantage, which handles the Power Modifier to Holy abilities. Honesty means the murder hoboes won’t act all murder hobo in town, and the Cleric isn’t going to stand for a Thief doing Thief things. Sense of Duty (Coreligionists) ties to Clerical Investment, and both mean that to be worthwhile there needs to be coreligionists in key spots of an adventure. Vow (No edged weapons) is easy. Most of the optional ones are clear. Intolerance (All other religions) means there needs to be other religions, and Vow (Vegetarianism) keeps the Cleric from hunting and fishing letting the hunters help him out when he runs out of rations. The dreaded Weirdness Magnet shows up.

The Cleric will do well in social situations, urban adventuring, and melee combat. His Theology can let him identify weird religious shit down in the dungeon. He isn’t a good ranged combatant, especially if he takes Vow (No edged weapons). He might be good in the wilderness, owing to his spells—Create Food helps quite a bit with logistics. And, though it only shows up on one of the three spell lists, a Cleric is obliged to take Minor Healing and Major Healing, especially if he’s the only Cleric in the group. The other players will expect this.

Druid. For starters, this Druid doesn’t heal. I need to get that out of the way, because some folks expect Minor Healing and friends to show up on the Druid spell list.

Instead, this Druid is plant-oriented (Green Thumb), and optionally animal-oriented as well. He does all right in trekking, with Hiking, Survival, and Weather Sense, though not Navigation. His might ebbs down in the dungeon or in a town, which will make more than a few problems. His optional advantages are all over the place, and he only gets 20 points for them, so same tale as the Cleric’s—pick one, or a racial template, and make it work.

The Druid doesn’t have a disadvantage on which his powers rely. Many of his disadvantage choices make him even more useless in a town (Vow (Never sleep indoors), Intolerance (Urbanites), Phobia (Crowds)). You aren’t hurting yourself too much if you load up on them, though if you make a Druid that can never go into town, you need to spend more points on Survival. You can make a Druid that sucks at reactions (No Sense of Humor, Odious Personal Habit, Stubbornness) as well. Again, Weirdness Magnet rears its head.

The Druid does well in the wilderness, and its spells are mighty if the Druid is among animals, plants, or elements. Earth college spells will work in the dungeon, albeit with the usual penalty. Someone playing a Druid isn’t going to be happy if adventures are mostly in the dungeon and the town, so this template needs some work for the GM and a player who is willing to make it work.

Holy Warrior. Also known as the paladin in That Other Game, the Holy Warrior has the most balanced stats of the lot. As such, he can do most things in a pinch, but he isn’t going to do them as well as a template dedicated to them, like the Bard is to social abilities, the Knight is to melee combat, and the Thief is to mundane non-combat skills. As the customization notes say, the idea is to have Holy abilities, and his Higher Purpose means that a Holy Warrior who never sees demons or undead will be a sad panda. Also, he (like the Cleric) has Exorcism.

His non-Holy optional advantages have to do with melee combat (Combat Reflexes, High Pain Threshold) or being a tough bastard (Fearlessness, Rapid Healing, Resistant to Disease or Poison). I can see going with the tough bastard advantages, as taking a licking and keeping on ticking suits my idea of an untiring foe of evil. Somebody has to be standing after the battle to tell how everyone else died.

Like the Cleric, a -10 point disadvantage governs the Holy Warrior’s Holy abilities, so this one is important. Honesty is the same as for the Cleric, and Vow (Own no more than horse can carry) is easy. Sense of Duty (Good entities) means there needs to be good entities to whom to have a sense of duty. Most of the optional disadvantages are the usual goody-two-shoes disadvantages, though Bloodlust plays against type. Note that No Sense of Humor and Stubbornness are reaction roll killers, and go against the D&D idea that the paladin with a 17 Charisma is going to have everyone like him. It’s another reason why GURPS is an improvement; if I had to deal with a paladin, I’d be annoyed to no end.

The Holy Warrior does well in melee combat and urban adventuring. He doesn’t have any wilderness skills, but he does have decent attributes so dumping a point or two on them after a few misadventures in the wild will shore that up. Aside from the lack of wilderness skills, he doesn’t really do anything badly, due to his balanced attributes. He even has Strategy and Tactics, though I’m not sure what good Strategy does in most Dungeon Fantasy games, other than its one little boon in DF2.

Knight. This guy is really good at melee combat, and is pretty good at ranged combat. Like the Holy Warrior, he has Born War Leader, and the trio of Born War Leader skills of Leadership, Strategy, and Tactics, though those three, especially Strategy, aren’t going to come up much. Still, he should make sure to use them in those three situations that are in DF2 so the player can feel good about not wasting points.

Anyways, back to actually fighting. His optional advantages are all either fighting or toughing it out, and he already has Combat Reflexes and High Pain Threshold. He gets 60 points of these, and Weapon Master is on the optional list. I would like to point out one little oddity: the Knight has bought down his Basic Speed from 6.75 to 6.00, for -15 points. Spending the 20 points to raise it to 7.00 frees up -15 points for disadvantages, effectively making the whole matter 5 points.

Speaking of disadvantages, you have the typical thick-headed knight ones (Code of Honor, Sense of Duty, Vow), the obligatory social problems (Bully, Compulsive Carousing, Lecherousness), the being rash ones (Bloodlust, Impulsiveness, Overconfidence), and a couple that represent serious physical injury (One Eye, Wounded). The last ones are more crippling than their points indicate, especially One Eye, but kind of interesting for play, giving us a game wherein the main melee combatant has to deal with big issues in melee combat. Also, Sense of Duty (Nation) means you have to worry about fleshing out a nation enough to come into play, and Obsession (Slay some specific type of monster) means that you need to have that monster show up somehow. That would be a good MacGuffin for a hex crawl: Sir Korman of the Gilded Codpiece wants to slay Edward the Sparkly Vampire, who is said to live in the woods some 100 miles away. On the way, the characters loot lairs and dungeons and get to the Sparkly Vampire, who has to die again, since vampires sparkling is contrary to the laws of nature and frankly pretty fucking stupid.

Knights are good at melee combat, and all right at ranged combat. They really don’t do anything else, nor are they meant to do anything else. It seems weird, but for those players who want their melee fighters to do more than fight would be better off with the nature-boy idiot Barbarian than the civilized Knight.

Martial Artist. A confession: I’ve never been tempted to play one of these, which is odd since I played a D&D monk as my main character for many years. Anyways, Martial Artists are the monks of Dungeon Fantasy (duh), and as such fight well unarmed or with weapons that in GURPS Third Edition might get a Japanese Name Bonus. Maybe it’s the whole thing with the D&D monk, who does many things, but none of them well, that gets me. But back to the Martial Artist. With his obscene DX 16, he specializes in in melee combat and other DX skills, mostly mobility ones (Climbing, Jumping, Stealth). His optional advantages are mostly combat-oriented, but he only gets 20 points of them; he’s meant to rely on Chi abilities. His Chi skills out of the box aren’t all that hot; aside from the DX-based ones (there are five such), they’re mostly in the 11-12 range. His melee fighting skills are good, in the 15-17 range (unless he’s crazy and relies on Knife as his main fighting skill), but he doesn’t have much ST, and his Trained by a Master boon of lower penalties for Rapid Strikes won’t help too much until his fighting skill goes up a bit.

His disadvantages always include Disciplines of Faith (Chi Rituals), which mostly means he loses time and money being a weird motherfucker. Speaking of which, the extra cost for rations means the Martial Artist is weakened by foraging and hunting for rations, since foraged rations won’t come covered in patchouli oil. As for the others, most are the usual social ones (Code of Honor, Compulsive Vowing, Honesty), or set on making sure nobody likes the Martial Artist because he’s weird (Callous, No Sense of Humor, Stubbornness). Did I mention that the template suggests that all Martial Artists are weird? I just want to get that out of the way.

Martial Artists are good at melee combat, and at a new kind of situation: moving around. A Martial Artist is fast, and has good Climbing and Stealth skills, not to mention his DX-based Chi skills. Of the earlier templates, the Barbarian might be the most mobile, since he can easily handle any weight he is bearing and moves fast owing to his long legs. Martial Artists will likely have reaction penalties from their disadvantages, and Chi Rituals mean they’ll have issues in the wilderness since foraged rations shut down his Chi abilities and his fruity mystical exercises will slow everyone down. To keep from pissing everyone off from the overlong wilderness treks, think about letting a Martial Artist learn Naturalist on his wayfaring, and let him use that to brew smelly teas and oils to at least nerf the rations problem. Though said smelly teas and oils might lure more random encounters and reaction penalties for his adventuring companions …

Scout. This is a template with three skills: ranged combat, wilderness exploration, and being the lead character in Harper Lee tales. As the last one means nothing in Dungeon Fantasy, we’ll hone in on the other two. Its required advantages are Heroic Archer (Gunslinger for bowmen) and Outdoorsman, and like the Martial Artist, he’s quick. He only has IQ 11, but his Per 14 is more important, since many wilderness skills use Per instead, and he’ll spot things others miss. He only gets 20 points of optional advantages, most of which go into spotting things (Acute Senses, Night Vision), or fighting (High Pain Threshold, Weapon Master). Combat Reflexes, with its bonus to initiative rolls, falls into both categories. I’d spend the 20 points instead on the Wood Elf template, which makes the Scout even more of an archery munchkin, and go for Weapon Master (Bow) as soon as I get the points.

His disadvantages, like the Druid’s, heavily tend towards being an unlikeable asshole (Callous, No Sense of Humor, Odious Personal Habit) or not doing well in town (Intolerance (Urbanites), Phobia (Crowds), Vow (Never sleep indoors)). Like the Druid, nobody will like him, and he won’t do well on urban adventures. If he’s stuck out of the inn, he’ll need more Survival to make sure he’s not hurting when his buddies meet up with him again.

Scouts are good in ranged combat, wilderness adventures, spotting things, and moving around. They’re all right in melee combat too, about as good as the Holy Warrior. They’ll suck in town, and suck in any social interactions. I did play one once, and with No Sense of Humor, I played up the asshole angle. One of his quirks was that he always made bad jokes about the listener, with the punch line, “You die."

Swashbuckler. This guy is a fast swordsman with no strength. The existence of this template helps lure suckers who think that DX is the melee combat stat in GURPS. It isn’t, and playing this template for a session will teach them otherwise. We have a low-point Swashbuckler (the Skirmisher from DF15) in our game, and we’ve had to think to make sure he’s useful.

That’s the idea here. You have to think to play this template well. A Swashbuckler is tougher for a newbie to play than any spell caster. He has a high sword skill, and the trick is what combat option to use at any given point. Said combat option (Deceptive Attack, Hit Location, and Rapid Strike are the starting ones) will lower the Swashbuckler’s effective skill, so he’ll be spending his first earned points on a higher sword skill, even though his sword skill is already high.

He has 60 points to blow on optional advantages, and he can be a better fighter (Enhanced Defense, better stats) or be a suave, Errol Flynn-type (Appearance, Charisma). Being likable will help keep the swashbuckler from being a one-trick pony. I’d split the points between the two, and maybe get even more Luck. I’m not one to get Luck, unlike many GURPS players (it’s a handy but boring advantage), but the Swashbuckler not only has it already, but having loads of Luck would lead me to try even more insane stunts. Remember, Luck can be used for any roll, not just missed defense and resistance rolls, which are the usual uses; a Swashbuckler with Ridiculous Luck gets a use of Luck every 10 minutes, and a good combat will take more than 10 minutes of playing time. Trying to slash the Neck with loads of Deceptive Attack isn’t a bad idea when you get the best of three rolls, even if your effective skill is 8. (Your chance of success is 59.4%, and your chance of a critical success is 5.5%, for those who want to know the math for that situation. You have almost no chance of a critical failure—1 in 157,464—so take a chance.)

A Swashbuckler’s disadvantages include being dedicated to his sword (Obsession, sundry Vows), being an Errol Flynn-wannabe (Chummy, Compulsive Carousing, Lecherousness), and being a bother (Impulsiveness, Overconfidence). He has One Eye and Wounded; a penalty to combat for the Swashbuckler strikes me as less fun than for the Knight, whose ST can make up for losing a point of skill. Trickster with Ridiculous Luck somehow strikes me as a fitting combination—Trickster to want to pull off the impossible stunt, and Ridiculous Luck lets you make it work.

Swashbucklers are good at melee combat, mobility, social interactions, and urban adventuring (he has Carousing and one of Savoir-Faire or Streetwise, though the latter two aren't at a high level). He needs a good sword, and will want to find the best one he can find; you’ll need to make a few legendary magical swords for him to seek out. He will love it and feed it and call it George and likely recite a creed about how this is his sword and that there are many swords like it but this one is his. Losing that sword would be the worst thing to ever happen to him. He will have it with him under his covers when he sleeps. He can do all right with a ranged weapon if he doesn’t take disadvantages that keep him from using one, but doesn’t have much in the way of wilderness skills. 

Thief. Even though GURPS doesn’t have hit dice, think of the Thief as having a d4. Why? He doesn’t do much in straight-up combat. He’s like the Swashbuckler as he has a high DX and, stemming from that, a high combat skill, but he doesn’t have all the goodies that give the Swashbuckler choices in combat, and he also has the same ST 11, so he won’t do much damage. Therefore, he needs thought for good play, and good play won’t be a straight-up fight.

A Thief has good mobility given his high Move and Perfect Balance. Like the Knight, think about taking back the choice Kromm made to buy down his Basic Speed, not spend the 5 points to raise his Move (since buying up his Basic Speed already gives him Move 7), and spend an extra -10 in disadvantages. He doesn’t have Luck already, and to buy it means cutting into his 30 points of optional advantages, so he doesn’t get to do the rad moves the Swashbuckler can make them work. A racial template that enhances his sneakiness, like one of the Elves or Halfling, might be a good use of these points. Put the leftovers into bettering what you want to be his best trick, be it sneaking, stealing, or backstabbing.

His disadvantages likely will have one of being a cad, like Greed or Kleptomania. Everyone needs to keep in mind that Greed or Kleptomania will mean that the Thief will steal from his fellows, so make sure That Guy does not play a Thief unless you want to be describing roleplaying games to the satisfaction of the prosecuting attorney. An awful lot of his disadvantages are related to being a slime ball in town (Compulsive Lying, Lecherousness, Social Stigma), which will both enable and impede town adventures—they make sure they’ll happen, and make sure the Thief doesn’t do well on them. This strikes me as fun; it might not strike you the same way.

Again, the Thief won’t do well in straight-up fights. He needs to use his Stealth to hide, and then he strikes, hopefully hits (Telegraphic Attack from GURPS Martial Arts really needs to be in the Basic Set), then he needs to find a way to get the hell out of the way. His high DX will help him fire a bow for the rest of the fight. A Thief does well in mobility and urban adventures but might not do well in social interactions. His only boon in a wilderness adventure is his high Move, though his high IQ and Per will let him get by on one point in wilderness skills once he gets a chance to learn them. He’s also handy in dungeon exploration, being the one guy who can deal with traps and locks.

Wizard. A Wizard casts spells. Really, is there anything else? The spell lists are restricted so a Wizard can’t cast Animal, Healing, Plant, and Weather spells, so that makes his spells mostly for fighting, but this is Dungeon Fantasy. Most Dungeon Fantasy games, other than mine, are fighting first. There are loads of ways to kill with spells. Like the Cleric, don’t overlook logistics. Continual Light, Create Food, and Mystic Mist make some aspects of adventuring easier on both the players and the GM.

A Wizard’s optional advantages and disadvantages are often supernatural. The advantages include being a better wizard (more Magery, IQ, and FP), as well as Wild Talent and Spirit Empathy, which open new doors. Luck, as always, shows up, though the Wizard has only 30 points to spend here, so Luck is mostly defensive.

Some of a Wizard’s disadvantages will make work for the GM. Frightens Animals isn’t as bad as it sounds for a GM, as it mostly means the group can’t get a pack animal or mounts, though there needs to be a few animals in the wild to make trouble. Weirdness Magnet is Weirdness Magnet, and you can look on the forums for groaning about that disadvantage. A Wizard with Absent-Mindedness means that the GM needs to remember things for the Wizard to forget. There’s also the usual bevy of bad social skills (Clueless, Social Stigma (Excommunicated), Stubbornness).

Wizards are good at ranged combat, in effect, owing to their spells. What’s an illusion or a zombie? Something fighting your foes from afar. An Exploding Fireball is even more plainly a ranged combat spell. With the right spells, mostly the jet ones, Wizards can work as melee fighters as well. They can handle some logistics which will help both dungeon and wilderness adventures, and their nerdy skills will help in town. They’re squishy wusses, however, and their FP limits their ability to handle things like melee combat and mobility. The Thief might have a slightly lower chance to get his Lockpicking roll off, but he can roll again if it wasn’t trapped without blowing off FP. Also, leave the heavy Mind Control stuff to the Bard. (Casting Itch in combat from time to time is fine.) Those rolls are resisted, and the Bard has a good reaction bonus to help him if the spell doesn’t work.

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