"AND YOU, BABY, SHOULD
BE IN REAL LIFE"
Blue Room Edition
BUILDING THE PERFECT 'ZINE
What, in everybody's opinion, makes a 'zine a good one? I, like most of us here (I hope) want to assemble an issue that entertains and keeps the reader interested. I mean, sure you read the MCs first, but after that you settle in and try to read the whole thing, right? So what qualities make for a good 'zine, and a bad 'zine? My opinions on this follow, and all of your opinions are actively solicited.
So I guess what I'm saying is, my ideal 'zine (to read and to produce) has variety of content, is friendly as is entirely about me. Yup. I think I nailed it perfect. Yup.
A HANDY LITTLE TABLE FOR YOU
According to the GURPS Basic Set, those who use "advanced" armor rules should record armor on the backs of their character sheets, since all those pieces take up space. This worked until the new sheets came out . . . The following chart makes advanced armor more "compact." It also makes it easier and faster to buy for your PC.
THE BIG TABLE OF QUICK-N-EASY ARMOR STATS (Price/Weight)
Listings for Leather assumes cuirboulli (PD 2;
A "Shirt" is covers torso and arms, "Dress" covers torso and legs, and "Suit" covers torso, arms, and legs. "A+L" is arms and legs. Miscellany: Cloth gloves + sandals cost $25 and weigh 1 pound; cloth gloves and shoes cost $55 and weigh 2 pounds. Leather gloves and leather boots cost $110 and weigh 3 pounds. Gauntlets/sollerets costs $250 and weighs 9 pounds.
AND ON THE SUBJECT OF ARMOR - BARDING!
Tim Carrol (or "cruel master of whip and RAEBNC," as I know him), asked if anyone had "realistic numbers" for barding. Well, Tim, this is a tricky issue. Two years ago, I spent literally days of man-time researching this subject, and NO student of armor and weapons seems to agree on the numbers for horse armor. Also, hoplologists hate to generalize, while gamers NEED to. The following are the stats that I've come up with after a lot of work.
The Barding table looked even worse. It'll be here someday. In the meantime, use the more current rules in Compendium II and (presumably) the upcoming GURPS Low-Tech.
* You know how the chainmail thing works. Note that these suits cover the head and body, but not the legs. For an extra 20% $$$ and weight, the armor can be extended to add half the PD (round up) to the legs. No DR.
Barding is basically in three parts: the chanfron, which covers the head and neck, the poitral, which covers the chest and body back to the saddle, and the crupper, which covers the body behind the saddle. In general, the crupper accounts for 35% of the armor ($$$ and lbs). If the GM wants, horse armor can be purchased sans crupper, leaving the rump exposed (no buttock jokes, please). For game terms, the crupper covers only the rear hex of the horse, which can be targeted at no penalty from the rear and side hexes, and at -2 from the front hexes (provided you can reach).
AND AS LONG AS WE'RE STILL ON ARMOR
Corinthian Helm: Crested greathelm made of copper or bronze. The crest is of horsehair and dyed red or saffron. Treated as a greathelm for purposes of coverage, and for penalties to attack and hearing rolls. PD4; DR6 (PD5 on the skull), $300, l2 pounds. The copper version is $260 and has DR5, and is otherwise identical. And they look REALLY cool.
Athenian Helm: A corinthian with a smaller nasal and cheekpeices on hinges. $340, 12 pounds, PD4; DR6 (PD5 against attacks to the skull). For all other purposes it is treated as a Corinthian. With the cheekpieces raised, the front of area 5 is no longer protected, and the wearer suffers no hit penalty (and no longer gains "eyeslit" protection). The ears are unprotected, so there is no hearing penalty.
WE'RE NOT ON WEAPONS, BUT THIS WAS SITTING IN MY FILES:
Flails (fantasy version): $100, 6 lbs, Min ST 13, 1 turn to ready. Does Swing+2, usually crushing damage. Any hit by 3+ does cutting. Any hit by 6+ does impaling. Due to the single heavy head, they don't get stuck unless the foe is wearing DR 5+ rigid armor.
AN INTERESTING LOCATION:
All of this is straight dope - no fiction. Most of it is just to help establish atmosphere in an Illuminati or straight Espionage game. None of it is classified - but a lot of it is far from common knowledge, even to many Pentagon employees.
The Ground Zero Cafe: In the middle of the grounds occupied by the Pentagon sits the ``Ground Zero Cafe,'' a rather ordinary snack bar. Rumors of imprisoned demons are a common joke, and many point to the quality of the sandwiches as some sort of proof.
The Basement: The basement levels are in fact larger than the building itself, extending deep under the parking areas, etcetera. In addition, there are tunnels (vehicle-sized) that lead into important areas within D.C.. The basement is a maze of twisting dark corridors and exposed pipes. Many areas have been rebuilt and walled over, and none of the corners look just right. The floors are covered with discarded soda cans and old newspapers, and the walls are cracked and peeling. Several corridors seem entirely devoid of function, or feature nothing but bricked-up doorways and flashing orange lights (WARNING! DEAF PERSONNEL). Both cieling and floor regularly drop and rise, and alcoves are stuffed with broken office furniture. This part of the building is also the home of the only purple water fountain in the building, about which there are many rumors (most, regrettably, unprintable). Most of the basement is office space - just like the rest of the place.
The Blackened Bits: A few years back, there was a fire in the basement. A bunch of offices were totalled, and a lot more were damaged. Since the Pentagon is an old building, there was rampant asbestos. Instead of going through the massive trouble of rebuilding a huge chunk of the basement, the place was simply bricked over . . .
The Corridors: There are two types of corridor in the Pentagon. The first type is the kind that a tourist can see: the bright, oak-panelled and mood-lit kind, filled with inspiring paintings of dead generals. These are common around the brassy areas and are the only kind on the public tours. They include such tasteful features as plaster columns made to look like sculpted cement, and pipes painted to look like wood to match paneling. The floors are always well-polished, to the point of being actually slippery. The second sort of corridor is far more common. Dull yellow paint peeled and cracking, boring metal doors, and so on. Dingy and unkempt, and loaded with discarded office furniture, as above. Discarded furniture is a big thing in the Pentagon . . .
Getting Around: The floors are numbered 1 through 5. In addition to floors, the building is divided into five "rings," lettered A through E. Rooms are numbered normally after the Floor/Ring designation. (An interesting bit of trivia: If you go to the fifth floor and the E ring, you will find yet another dull, featureless corridor. Until you come to room 23, that is. Room 23 (one of the naval offices) has a door covered, floor-to cieling, in stickers. Everything from miss piggy to the navy football team. Sticks out like a sore fnord).
The "Mall" Area: The area around the main entrance foyer strongly resembles a small shopping mall. There is a full service bank, a newsstand, a bookstore, a haberdashery, a video-rental place, a drugstore, and several other businesses, all civilian-owned. There is also a Metro Rail station within the building here. From here, huge ramps lead to the various floors, and lots of little "golf carts" zoom about. The corridors in these areas (and many others) are easily large enough for a car chase. With wide cars. REALLY wide cars going sixty.
Things To Exploit: First of all, security is terrible, particularly at night. This comes from having 23,000 employees. I've walked in at 2 AM carrying a HUGE catalog case full of books, and I've had to REMIND the security guy to x-ray it! And ten hours later when I leave, the video monitor still shows my case! Another thing to remember is that internal security forces are military, while the door gaurds are civilian "rent-a-cops." The military services serve as security in week-long shifts (one week Marines, one week Air Force, etc). It's easier to get access into rooms if you happen to be in the same branch as the current security, due to the almost palpable camraderie/competetion factor. There are several civilian contractors of the construction or electrical variety around the place at all times, and these guys are allowed free reign over the place. They are also possibly the only fellows that have accurate maps of the basement.
It would be easy to live in the place, actually. There are huge barely-closed-off areas (especially in the basement), HUNDREDS of open phone lines, furniture galore, huge officer showers, and so on. And at night, the corridors are practically deserted. I've written two short stories on this theme.
Random Stuff: During tense times (such as the recent Gulf Games), the place is utterly paranoid, and security snaps into place. ANYTHING casually left in a corridor will result in a sealed area and a bomb squad. Witness the poor electrician who deserted his lunch box to go get a soda . . . (true).
There are huge vehicle bays just loaded with goverment waste. Pallets stacked with practically new computer systems ready to get the axe (most computers seem to be used for only a month or two, and are then destroyed to avoid the complicated paperwork of selling them at auction). You can easily walk into these bays at night and scavenge for 40-meg hard drives. There would be, say, 2d of them, and VGA monitors, on an 8 or less on any given night. I do not exaggerate.
On a similar note, MANY officers pick up spare change by ordering an extra few grand a month in software packages (all sorts) and then selling them later. These same guys are noted for ordering laser-copiers to just "play with" and other such stuff. Don't be ashamed of cheating the feds - they are cheating you. Wave a flag . . .
THE OTHER SIDE OF 4TH EDITION: PRESERVING THE
There's a lot to like about GURPS: Totally flexible character creation, entertaining combat, the sidebar/main-text format, and good system support. All of these things have earned the game respect, and the package as a whole tends to attract older, more experienced gamers. I want to examine that last fact, and also the underlying philosophy and theme in most of the GURPS books.
When I say "attract experienced gamers," I mean precisely that. The opposite of this is "turns off inexperienced gamers." The distinction is important. BSIII doesn't come off as snooty or elitist. It doesn't say "come back when you're older." Quite the opposite. The tone is friendly and encouraging, but never ONCE is it condescending, and never once does it take a position higher than that of the GM or player reading it. This clads in iron the sense that I'm not playing someone else's game, I'm instead using someone else's system to play my own game. I like that - and most other games are a stifling opposite.
However, there've been some recent trends in design that bother me. Some of the books released since BSIII seem to cut across the grain of this philosophy of company-consumer equality and communication. This article adresses a few of these problems, in the hopes that they can be avoided in the future, for the good of both the system and it's fans.
Who Are You Writing For?
One fragment of the GURPS philosophy, as I interpret it, is: "a character may have any imaginable ability, provided the player has enough points to spend." This is why points were used. When a new ability is defined, you give it a point cost to represent its value. Do this right, and PC balance need never be an issue. But in many cases, flexibility = abuseability.
GURPS Supers (1st edit.) tried to inhibit abuseability, and met disaster, because it inhibited flexibility as well. The munchkins had no fun; they had to take an extra step to abuse the rules. The good players were stifled; many good concepts were impossible or prohibitively expensive due to the arbitrary design rules.
The second edition eliminated this. The munchkins had a field day - the rules were flexible and abuseable as all hell. The good players ALSO had a good time. They didn't abuse the rules, because they don't DO that sort of thing. So a good time was had by all.
A related issue is rules and mechanics that insult the GM. Although it pains me to say so, John Nowak's morale rules certainly fit this category, by exuding an "educate the heathen" attitude that is very un-GURPS like. Good GMs will play NPCs realistically without rules. And unrealistically when they feel like it.
Silversilk and Leprechaun Boots
Above all shines the problem in GURPS Magic Items. I like this book - the items are generally quite amusing and offer fresh alternatives to the old standbys. The "background" copy, however, is insulting and presumptuous.
I understand the desire to give the magic items "life" and I respect Chris McCubbin for his attempt to do so. The problem was this: If the backgrounds were set in Yrth, the non-Yrth customer would feel cheated because the book didn't stand alone. However, setting the items in an equally not-included "generic" world does NOT solve this problem.
More to the point, the histories paint a picture of a fantasy world so trite that I was nearly ill. Nobody over the age of nine has a game-world even remotely like that. Of course, ONE of the items IS set in Yrth . . . and another mentions "dark elves," but they don't seem to be the Yrth variety. So it's inconsistent, too. Very confusing.
Normally, I would say "If you don't like the histories, ignore them" but that doesn't apply here. In Fantasy Folk, the "D&D" background served as an example, but that's not the case with Magic Items. A series of iron-clad, copper-riveted, self-loading hard statements tell us that Magic items are ALWAYS mysterious and have goofy command words. ONLY Leprechauns can manufacture seven league boots. Elves do NOT like to live among humans. While this served as an amusing (if uncomfortable) trip down memory lane, I think the space could have served better if filled with more magic items. Besides, nobody smarter than a lobotomized paperweight would use those backgrounds. Contrast the Steffan O'Sullivan article in the back on alchemy. Without ANY bogus world-background, it was still "atmospheric."
Frankly, I don't think any of us need four pages of text to tell us what halflings are like, but the "generic" setting isn't the problem in Fantasy Folk. The setting stuff is clearly used only for example, and is innocuous and low-key, if still a bit D&D-ish.
The problem is, to get the racial creation rules you MUST buy 96 pages or so of sample races (and aliens, in the case of that book). I KNOW what races in my settings are like. I just need the rules. If Supers, Super Scum, Supertemps, and Mixed Doubles were combined into a single volume, and GURPS Supers was put out of print, forcing you to buy a zillion premade characters with the rules, there would be complaints. If the Car Wars Compendium were to be combined with the entire Vehicle Guide series, there would be complaints. Both books contain example creations. If you need more, you can purchase it separately. If you don't, you aren't cheated. Why are the GURPS racial books different?
And There Are Other Examples . . .
The three things above are the most glaring exceptions among dozens of flawless sourcebooks and rulebooks, and about a dozen with very slight flaws. One of the problems with these heavy-narking 'zines is that it gives the wrong impression. To read All of the Above, you'd think that we all HATE the system. As with any such narks, nobody should take this personally. We're all on the same side, here, and it's bloody-minded pickiness like this that has made the system as good as it is. That's all.
The GURPS Magic rules are awfully bloody flexible, and fiddling with them is like a secondary hobby for most fantasy GMs I know. This is one of my favorite variants.
"Unlimited" is a condition separate from actual mana level. There's normal Unlimited, Low-Mana Unlimited, or what-have-you. The only difference is this: Magic does not tire the mage with normal use - no fatigue is taken from spellcasting. Any mage can have as much power as he wants - but there's a catch. That catch allows the GM to totally fine-tune the power of magic in his setting.
In a UMana setting, mages keep a tally of total energy used. If a mage casts a full-power Major Healing, then 4 energy is added to the tally. This just keeps on adding up, but "to use such power lightly, or to have a greed for it, is dangerous. That way lies madness!" Each mage has a personal Power Threshold (THRESH). You can pass the Thresh if you want, but it can be dangerous. Every spell that brings the total beyond Thresh requires 1,2 or 3 rolls on the Calamity Table. Roll 1d/2 for the number of rolls. In addition, these rolls each have a modifier equal to 1/5 the excess.
Example: Urfen the Firemage has a Thresh of 30, and has just cast a spell that crossed the threshold. His total is now 36. He must make 1-3 rolls on the calamity table, and each will be at +1 (6/5, rounded down). If he casts a power 4 spell to bring it up to 40, he'll have to make 1-3 more rolls, at +2 each! This continues ad infinitum, each new spell triggering possible calamities . . . The modifier is always based on current tally. Note that even if a calamity or three results, the spell still succeeds unless the calamity roll is 29+ (see table).
Fortunately, each mage has a Recovery Rate (RR), which lowers his total each sunrise (or midnight, or noon, etc). I use a base Thresh of 30 and a base RR of 2d+1 each morning. This is a power level that averages a bit lower than standard GURPS Magic. When determining these stats for your own setting, remember that RR sets the average daily limit, and Thresh establishes how far it's safe to push it in emergencies. In addition, the following advantage exists:
Increased Power Tolerance [10 Points/Level]
Each level of this advantage increases the mage's personal Thresh by 20% , and RR by 25%, of the campaign default. In my games, this amounts to +6 Thresh and +2 to the Recovery roll. Each effect individually is worth 5 points per level (Rapid Recovery and Increased Thresh).
There are no other changes to the magic rules. High skill still reduces cost, etc. Any other variants work seamlessly with UMana.
The advantages of the system should be obvious. Super-powerful mages next to run-of the mill mages, without fudging or falling back on Powerstones. Mages can heal a broken leg or cast Earthquake when they NEED to, but not on any kind of regular basis. Most of the time, they have to be careful. Set the Thresh at 5 and RR at 1 for a REALLY low mana campaign - where mages can STILL perform miracles if they want to risk the consequences. Note that small excesses are relatively safe (with no modifier, the odds are about 70% of nothing happening).
Spending ST: If the mage fears the results of his casting, he can still draw on his own power. Each point of spell power causes four fatigue. HT can be spent on a 1-for-1 basis.
Notes and Options
There are lots of ways to fiddle with this fiddling. New tables can be developed, perhaps affecting only weather, or the mage's personal health, or whatever, as it suits the needs and vision of the GM. Thresh and RR can be either fixed or random.
RR need not be a daily figure, either. I do it daily because paperwork is easier than an hourly or other rate. Likewise, it could be REALLY wierd to change the RR to 56, but make it occur at the end of the week. Lots of spellcasting just after "payday" would be the result, but some GMs might find that amusing. What the hell?
One particularly useful version: Keep the rules for magic exactly as presented in GURPS Magic, but allow either normal ST spending OR "free" spending. The catch? The Thresh is ZERO - any "free lunch" casting risks calamity! RR should be about 1d6 daily.
This advantage works well when combined with extra spending options. Let wizards make their spells faster, more accurate, and so on by spending energy, and watch how gleefully they spend all their safe power! Then hit them with the BIG stuff. Heh, heh, heh.
Run with it, try it, and tell me what you think! I evision this as pleasing both the "Magic is too weak!" crowd and the "Magic is too powerful" crowd. I'm just diplomatic, I guess.
Table of Most Dolorous Sorcerous Calamities
(3 dice, 1 to 3 times)
3-10 - Nothing happens - this time. If this result appears in ANY of the rolls for this check, ignore any ot #nresults.
11,12 - The mage has weakened the binding forces around him. His Threshhold for the next 1d weeks is reduced by 2d+5. The mage is aware of a drop, but not of it's severity. Experimentation needed!
13 - As above, but it's 4d+10 and lasts 1d months! In addition, the mage's magic will be at a -3 skill penalty for 2d weeks.
14 - The mage is cursed with nightmares, and cannot rest. This lasts for 4d days. During this time, the mage is at -2 to ALL skills and ST.
15 - Any failed casting roll that the mage makes will be treated as a critical failure for 1d+1 weeks! Don't tell the mage . . .
16 - The caster gains a 5-point disadvantage. After 2d days have passed, the mage has the option of buying it off (it will simply fade away). If the mage does not wish to, or doesn't have the points, then it becomes permanent. Any disad is legal, the mage can get ugly, go insane, and so on.
17-18 - As above, but the disad is worth 10 or 15 pts. (roll).
19 - As above, but there are multiple disads worth (2dx5) pts.
20 - As per 15, but it lasts for 1d+1 months. At the end of that period, the mage should make a Will+Magery roll. A failed roll means the condition is permanent! This reduces the value of Magery to 5 points initial, 3 thereafter, if a PC wishes to start with it.
21 - Roll again (same modifier) but the result affects a companion of the mage! The companion should be chosen randomly.
22 - The mage loses 1d x 5 points of advantages (or has an attribute lowered). Choose randomly what is lost. Anything goes.
23 - The mage loses permanently the ability to cast a single spell, chosen at random from his spell list. The skill is still known, and it still counts as a prerequisite, but it can't be cast.
24 - The mage becomes a wandering Mana-Scar! Threshold is halved withing a 3d mile radius of the mage, and Recovery is halted! This lasts for 2d days. Every mage in the area will be gunning for him.
25 - The mage's skill at spells is reduced by 2d+13. This penalty will be reduced at a rate of 1 per day.
26 - As above, but the ``healing rate'' is only 1 per week!
27 - The mage is aged 2d+13 years.
28 - A plague or curse (locusts, storms, etc) descends on the region, lasting for 3d weeks or more. No one will be able to trace this to the mage, but the mage will be aware that the fault is his . . . This has driven a number of mages mad as they witness the suffering and destruction thus wrought. Be cruel and grotesque.
29 - The mage permanently loses the ability to cast spells, (but not the knowledge - small comfort). At this level and above, the spell that causes the roll fails unless a (Will-6) roll is made.
30-39 - As per 29, and something permanent happens to the state of magic in the region. Perhaps all spells are at -2 in that kingdom from then on, or a certain spell functions erratically. Be creative. If the mage is found to be the culprit (and every concerned and able group will have a diviner on the job) then he could be a hunted man.
40+ As per 29, but a GLOBAL change occurs.
". . . something horrible - a grotesque creature with glowing eyes and twisted claws. It . . . it eats her . . . swallows her whole!"
- from Roleplayer #10 (Hi, Scott!)
Since the reaction to the "One Buttock" disad in Frood'Zine One seemed positive, I thought that some of you might be interested in the following, excerpted from the files of Sage Gygax of Greyhawk:
"As I had recorded in my previous volumes, the name of the arch-lich Vecna is rarely spoken, for fear of arousing the spirit of this malevolent creature of foul evil. I know now that even placing the name to paper was a mistake, for soon dungeon-delvers combed the lands of the Flanaess for the Hand and Eye of Vecna, coveting their foul power for themselves. Now, in my last years, I can reveal that the Hand and Eye were not the only surviving parts of that horrible lich . . .
"The Buttock of Vecna appears as a mummified part, easily mistaken for a small ham or chicken roll. However, it bears a dweomer nearly as potent as the other, more well known parts. To use the evil buttock, one's own buttock must be first removed, and the evil one put in it's place. It will graft itself to the user's body permanently, and may not be removed without slaying the host.
"The host may use the Minor Powers of the Buttock without fear, but any use of the Major abilities of the artifact will instantly alter the host's alignment to Neutral Evil. All powers are activated by various muscular "flexings," and the DM should devise these in advance, requiring players to experiment to find the abilities of the artifact.
"Among the rumored abilities of the Buttock are Hypnotic Pattern (the victim must see at least the Buttock's outline to be hypnotized), and the ability to Remove Curse once per day, by a single touch. Note that companions of the host are known to covet the Buttock, and will stop at nothing to steal it."
TO FROOD'ZINE TWO:
By S. John Ross, who can't see how he forgot to include this
SKILL BONUSES: A VERY SIMPLE VARIANT FOR GURPS
This variant (created while in a playful mood) eradicates two rules: "optional specialization," and the Manuevers rules from Martial Arts (the actual manuevers still exist, just not the rules for putting points into them). Notice how it only takes up one page? Nifty. This is a variant for those who like lots of simplicity. It's fun, too.
A skill with "required" specialization still follows those rules, since such skills are actually sets of skills. Gun (Grenade Launcher) and Guns (Shotgun) are still two different skills, which default to each other at -4.
For 2 points (4 points for a M/VH skill, 8 points for a physical skill), a character can take five bonuses in nearly any skill (GM discretion). These apply to "fields within the field" of the main skill. No category may have more than 5 bonuses applied to it, but any skill may have any number of categories modified. GMs should reject any proposed "specialization" that represents more than 20% of the skill. Thus, the skill Arabic-9 (+5 conversational arabic) is not legal, nor is Shortsword (+5 to torso attacks). Arabic-9 (+1 rude words, +4 cooking terms), on the other hand, is legal.
Example: Pierre is an excellent cook (skill 12), but he want to be a bit more specialized. He could put bonuses on "breads," or he could put a couple into "beverages" or "salads." He opts to spend 2 points for a +2 for sauces and a +3 for pastries. He's french.
Example Two: Doc Reno is a country doctor and time-traveling swashbuckler and necromancer. His patients complain of foot trouble, so he leaves the shop to his son, and spends a few years (subjective) traveling the cosmos meeting famous doctors. He spends 2 points for a +5 in Podiatry (the maximum for any one category). He gets in a lot of fights on the way, and (being a "cannot kill" sort of dude) puts 8 points into his fencing slot, for a (+1 to attacks to the hand, +4 to disarm). Spending the last year in Yrth running from mad dwarves (it was a simple misunderstanding) he also tosses 2 points into his Zombie spell, making it Zombie (+5 when cast on Dwarf corpses).
And that's it! That's the whole variant! GMs who are frightened by the thought of adding it to spells and physical skills can ignore that part if they want. It can also be used to good effect on Psi and Supers skills (4 points per +5 each), provided the GM strictly enforces the "20%" rule. PLEASE comment on this! Hmmm. Now I have this urge to write up stats for Doc Reno. Next issue.