Category Archives: Dice

To Serif or Not to Serif

The debate of whether or not to use serifs in fonts has raged almost since Gutenberg invented the printing press back in 1440. What are serifs, you may ask? Serifs are the little decorative marks on letters, like the bars on the top and bottom of the capital “I”. Sans-serif literally means “without serifs”.

Since I write both fiction and rulebooks, I looked through an assortment of our roleplaying books and novels, and also some boardgame rules.

In our roleplaying books serifs are very dominant. I checked a sampling of our GURPS 3/4e, D&D 4e, OVA, and HackMaster 4/5e books, and they were exclusively serif fonts other than tables and sidebars in HM; sidebars, examples, and sample characters in OVA; and monster blocks in D&D. In other words, they use serifs unless the text is small enough that the serifs might make it harder to read.

Possibly the oldest novel in our collection is my much-loved and rather battered 1978 edition of Heinlein’s Space Cadet. It uses sans-serif for chapter headings and page headers, but serifs otherwise. My wife’s 2013 library book is the same – and some people say that’s the problem, but I’ll go into that shortly.

Boardgame rules are less cohesive simply because they come in a number of formats: sheet or two of paper, pamphlet, booklet, the box or similar material (Ultimate Stratego’s rules are written on the card used to divide the board while players set up). From what I have seen, those that print on card- or pasteboard tend to use serifs, while those on simple paper don’t. Munchkin uses fonts that fit the game’s mood, resulting in a mixture of serif and sans fonts in booklets. Pyramid Arcade includes a 75-page rulebook, entirely in sans serif.


The serif debate is as nuanced as any, but most people seem to fall into one of two groups:
* In long lines of uninterrupted text serif fonts are easier to read because the serifs help guide the eye.
* Sans-serif fonts are “cleaner”, and therefore easier to read. Serif fonts only seem easier to read because they are what we are used to.

I fall into that first group, but also agree that sans-serif fonts look “cleaner”, but in mixed case sans serifs can be confusing. Think of how the word Illinois looks without its serifs. In all caps or or all lowercase it doesn’t matter, but in mixed case capital “I” and lowercase “l” look exactly the same.

As a compromise I have developed the habit of using sans-serif (Arial for screen or Verdana for print) for headings, especially if they are all caps, and serif (Times New Roman) for text. Purely out of curiosity, I mocked up a fake page from my roleplaying game’s rulebook with one written completely in Times New Roman (right), and the other with Verdana headings (left).

Font Test with mock up of rpg rulebook page

So which do you prefer?

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Cowboys and d6 Shooters

There are two Western-themed gaming Kickstarters going on right now by two of our favorite small game companies: Aces & Eights: Reloaded by Kenzer and Company, makers of HackMaster and Knights of the Dinner Table, and Six Shooters – Western Themed Dice by Black Oak Workshop, who we have backed twice before, for Bullseye d6, then Bullseye d4/8.

If you are a big fan of Wild West roleplaying games, then you may already be aware of award-winning Aces & Eights. What you may not know is that it was derived from Hackmaster 4e, which was itself evolved from AD&D 2E. HackMaster 5e, in turn, was adapted from A&8. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, KenzerCo is releasing a second edition, and it looks like the book will be a gorgeous, full-color, leather-bound tome like HackMaster 5e.

Even if you have no interest in the Wild West, its Shot Clock is an easy to way to resolve gunfire in a realistic manner without having to deal with cover and hit locations. Even better, the Kickstarter says it “can also be played as a skirmish-level miniatures battle.” I don’t have any particular interest in Wild West roleplaying, but we may well go for the $15 Showdown miniatures skirmish game rules.

Black Oak Workshop specializes in custom dice Kickstarters. We love our Bullseye dice, and are exceedingly happy with both the quality and how quickly they arrived. Like their previous project, this time the dice are 19mm rather than the 16mm of their previous offerings, which should make them much easier to read.

Take note that Aces & Eights is d20-based, while the Six Shooter dice are naturally d6s, but that didn’t stop Black Oak from backing Aces & Eights: Reloaded. Believe it or not, I actually heard about the A&8 Kickstarter from Black Oak Workshop before I did from Kenzer even though I’m on both mailing lists.

Happiness Jar #7 for 2017-03-27

Had several good things in the last week. One was the big 50th wedding anniversary party for my parents on Sunday – a goal far too many people these days will never reach.

I also finally got back to work on the lite game I made and then abandoned five years ago. First thing was copyediting the original post. How it got past my usual meticulous proofreading is beyond me – the number of errors was appalling. But it’s fixed now, and version .2 is nearly done.

Happiness Jars #4&5 for 2017-02-27

Got so busy I completely forgot to make happiness jar posts for the last two weeks, but since they’re related, here are both.

Happiness Jar #4

As planned, on Saturday the 18th we had our first meeting about the GURPS Fairy Tail campaign. I’d been bouncing around between which type of magic to use, but hadn’t been able to think of an actual character yet, until the GM told us about our guild. With my memory issues I can’t remember any actual details, but the guild’s focus is on time, and that led me to thinking about clockwork. Putting our heads together, the GM and I came up with the idea that my character might want to duplicate magic with technology.

Since then I’ve expanded it into this:

At some point in his past, he witnessed a non-mage getting mugged by a mage, and swore to come up with a way to give non-mages a inexpensive way to protect themselves from mages. His ultimate goal is to be able to build them cheaply enough that nearly everyone can afford one, and yet make enough profit to be able to give them to those who can’t.

We’ll iron the details of his invention later since that’s not something he’s going to have at the beginning anyway. Likely enchanting something like a bracer that grants the wearer Magic Resistance (making it harder to affect them with spells) and DR limited to Magic (so they’ll take less damage from fireballs and the like) and is powered by Lacrima.

When defending himself or someone else in combat, he relies on Requipping guns that he uses to fires magic bullets (or possibly enchant bullets/shells as he fires them, or simply uses the guns as foci through which he channels his magic; not decided yet).

That’s what I’m working no now. I’m going to build it as both Imbuements and Innate Attacks built as alternate abilities and see which I prefer. I knocked out most of the former sitting in the doctor’s waiting room this afternoon, and expect to finish shortly. The IAs won’t take me more than half an hour because I’m so prolific an IA builder (I even made Elmer Fudd’s gun (sometimes a rifle, sometimes a shotgun, even in the same scene) just to see if I could).

Happiness Jar #5

I had coincidentally been working on adapting Fairy Tail to GURPS purely for the fun of it for a couple of weeks before the GM announced the campaign, so I have pages of stuff for it now. To get things organized and to make it easier for everyone else to sift through, I posted as much of it as I could to a new section of my campaign wiki Friday afternoon. There was too much for me to be able to type it all up in one go, so I still have a good bit to do, but I got more than half of it posted.

GURPS Extra-Lite Finalized

I just uploaded what should be the final version of GURPS Extra-Lite. Other than the font and some formatting, the only thing that changed was that I finally made it compliant with Steve Jackson Games’ Online Policy for fan-made websites and game aids.

It used to say this:

The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.

But in re-reading their policy several times we realized that was meant only for fan sites (which is why it remains on the Web version of Extra-Lite, and has been added to my Munchkin compatibility chart). Instead they want this for game aids:

GURPS is a trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and its rules and art are copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by Steve Jackson Games. This game aid is the original creation of Frank Wilcox, Jr (fewilcox) and is released for free distribution, and not for resale, under the permissions granted in the Steve Jackson Games Online Policy.

They’ll also allow you to use most of their art as long as you follow their Online Policy. So if you ever see a game aid or other fan-work for any SJ game that doesn’t have one of the above disclaimers, send the author that link. Whereas some companies are really stingy with their IPs and actively discourage fan works (I would literally be in violation of Pokémon’s online policy if I were to even link you to it), SJG welcomes them, so the least we can do is give them their due credit.

Thursday is #GURPSDay – Our Houserules

  • Bang Skills Cost Double Instead of Triple
  • Costs FP/ER is -10% Per Level, Capped at -40%
  • DR With Absorption (B46) Costs Less
  • Age-related Traits Cost Half, and Unaging is 5 CP

GURPS is pretty much the perfect roleplaying game for our needs. Its only major flaw is that once you get enough skills tied to one attribute it becomes far more cost effective to simply increase that attribute, gaining everything else that goes with it, instead of increasing the individual skills. Other than that and a few minor annoyances, it has served us very well since 4e released back in 2004, and remains our go-to game to this day. We’re actually about to start up a Fairy Tail game in which I’m looking forward to being on the player side of the screen for once.

I solved the skills-attributes problem in two ways:

  • finding reasons to use characters’ skills with other attributes (which is why GURPS has you record the Relative Level), and
  • encouraging players to take “Bang Skills”.

Here’s how we deal with that one big problem and those few minor annoyances:

Bang Skills Cost Double Instead of Triple

Learning to play GURPS is dead simple if someone else makes your character: Roll 3d6 under the target number on your character sheet. That’s oversimplified a bit, but you really can learn everything you need to play the game on one sheet of paper, like on my own GURPS Extra-Lite.

But making a character is another story and best done with the help of someone experienced (the sheer number of options can be overwhelming, so I encourage GMs to come up a list of what they will or won’t allow in that campaign) – especially when it’s time to buy skills. That remains the most difficult thing to explain to new players, but is easy once it finally clicks.

One way to make it even easier is with “Bang Skills” (“Wildcard Skills” sidebar on B175). Bang Skills cover vast numbers of skills with one super skill, and are very expensive as a result: Very Hard x 3.

As an example, the Professor on Gilligan’s Island would have Science! as his main skill. It would cost him 24 CP to get it equal to his IQ, and then 12 more per level after that. As a 150-point character, that’s asking a lot. Since I want to encourage my players to take Bang Skills, I only charge them double the VH cost instead of triple even though our games usually start at 200-250 points.

Costs FP/ER is -10% Per Level, Capped at -40%

For advantages that have to be maintained, you may take:

  • Costs 1 FP per 10 seconds, -20%
  • Costs 1 FP per second, -40%

Take note of the -40% limit. The same also applies to abilities that use Energy Reserves (Powers 119).

In digging through my old notes it appears that at some point in the past I was convinced that even -10% per level was too little, and that this was even better:

  • Costs FP’s value decreases with level: CFP 1 is -25%, CFP 2 is an additional -10%, and each additional level adds -5%. So it goes -25% / -30% / -40% / -45%.

It makes good sense because CFP 1 means you immediately go from infinite uses to at most 7-8 per battle – a pretty significant difference. But CFP 2 only drops you to 3-4 uses, and CFP 3 to 2-3. Since I forgot about it I haven’t actually tried it yet, but will in my next campaign.

DR With Absorption (B46) Costs Less

  • Absorption: Heals HP or FP, +40%
  • Absorption: Heals HP and FP, +60%
  • Absorption: (One Trait) xY, +5%
  • Y is the level of Absorption for that particular entry.
  • Absorption: Every Trait, +50%

In Rev. Pee Kitty’s article “Absorption Revised“, he details why absorption is too expensive, so I won’t duplicate that, but here’s Natsu from Fairy Tail as an example:

[6.5 * X] DR X (Magic, -10%; Limited (fire), -40%; Absorption: Heals ER, +40%; Absorption: ST x5, +25%; Absorption: Burning Attack x3, +15%)

In short, that means Natsu takes X less damage from fire-based attacks, and when he does he can use that energy to restore his ER, increase his ST (and therefore damage), or add dice of damage to his fire spells. It costs his player 6.5 CP per point of DR.

Age-related Traits Cost Half, and Unaging is 5 CP

From Rev. Pee Kitty’s House Rules “2. Reducing the value of ‘flavor’ traits”:

The values of all age-related traits (Extended Lifespan, Longevity, Self-Destruct, Short Lifespan) are halved, except for Unaging, which costs 5 points. Terminally Ill no longer exists, except when granted via an Affliction.

From the day GURPS 4e released I thought that Unaging was overpriced simply because it is mostly flavor and almost never has any mechanical effect, so I was happy when I found out that I wasn’t the only one only charging 5 CP for it. Halving the cost of other age traits hadn’t occurred to me, but is a good idea.

Helping Players Cooperate

Time and time again I have recommended that people sign up for Roleplaying Tips Weekly by Johnn Four, but most especially GMs.  It is full of tips and tricks for GMs, plot hooks, and character inspirations. This particular issue is all about getting players to work together as an actual party of adventurers rather than a bunch of characters that happen to have the same goal or be traveling in the same direction.

One particular section of it especially appeals to me because it’s an adaptation of something I’ve been preaching to other GMs for years: that no non-combat dice roll should ever be boring (attacks never missing would also be boring), and a failed roll doesn’t mean that nothing happened. The article even uses my favorite example: the locked door. If the PCs have to get through the door in order for the campaign to continue, then they will get through the door, thus rolling to see if they can get the door open is pointless. It is far more interesting to use the player’s lockpicking or door smashing roll to determine how things progress (a failed roll could indicate that they’d made too much noise and aroused the guards, for instance), rather than whether the door gets opened.

The spin guest columnist Christopher Sniezak puts on it is using the failed roll as a way to bring another character in to share the spotlight. It’s absolutely brilliant and I’m a bit ashamed of myself for not thinking of it years ago.

Since discovering a free rules-light game called FUrpg (af) (Free, Universal RPG), I’ve started thinking in terms of its success/fail terminology, and it seems Christopher may have been likewise inspired. FUrpg’s core mechanic uses varying numbers of d6s, from which the player chooses the most beneficial (or least if the pool size is negative). The GM then describes what happens based on the result (even is good, odd is bad, higher is better):

6 Yes, and… You succeed and something else good happens.
4 Yes… Basic success.
2 Yes, but… You succeed, but at a cost.
5 No, but… You fail, but it’s not a total loss.
3 No… Basic failure.
1 No, and… You fail, and things get worse.

If I’m ever having trouble deciding how something turns out, or especially how an NPC reacts to something a PC just said or did, I can just roll a d6 or two and go from there. I still haven’t gotten around to actually using FUrpg for a pick-up game, but it has already helped me be a better GM for GURPS, HackMaster 5e, and D&D 4/5e.