Tag Archives: trpg

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.

Advertisements

Planned Improvisation

In the midst of a moment of chaos on vacation I came up with a new word: planprovise. It’s something I’ve done my whole life, and that Lura has become comfortable with after being with me for nearly 16 years; it’s also my preferred way to GM. In short, it means planning ahead, but only as far as having a rough skeleton outline, and making up the rest as needed, and, most importantly, being flexible enough to tackle whatever surprises turn up.

Since I can easily make monsters on the fly in GURPS, I can generally fit an entire campaign onto a sheet of paper, or even an index card. The exception is my Warehouse 23 / 13-inspired campaign. Before I started steampunk-ifying the setting, I ran it so that the events of the game could have actually happened, but were suppressed from the history books. That required me to do a lot of historical research and refer it to during the session, but it’s not something I’ll ever do again, and even now can only run a single session of that campaign every few months. But even with that level of planning my players have surprised me repeatedly, forcing me to adapt on the fly.

Since HackMaster and D&D are far more complex than GURPS, for them I need to create or look up whatever monsters I want to use ahead of time. I keep them in a spreadsheet that allows me to quickly create encounters on the fly. I first made one for HackMaster Basic years ago, but have now turned it into a full-blown campaign manager for HM 5e, that I will be uploading once I have it tweaked and then remove anything that might get me sued. For D&D I started with a spreadsheet that just allowed me to easily calculate how much experience to give out at D&D Encounters, and kept the monsters in an epub I kept open in my beloved PRS-T1 ereader. Then I slowly started splicing in elements of my HM campaign manager, but at this point it’s not even to beta level – maybe not even pre-alpha.

But that is the only major prep I do for either game unless I’m running an official module, and even then I’m pretty flexible (I ended up throwing out most of a page of the last D&D Expedition I ran because player actions clashed with the author’s assumptions).

My HackMaster 5e campaign is partly an experiment in cooperative world building, in which my players and I are equal partners in creating the world. They come up with the big stuff, like the steampunkish city in the middle of the desert NE of the starting city. I had built nothing whatsoever beyond the city’s walls in that direction, so I just took it and ran with it, creating the details as we went. That campaign is an excellent example of planprovising, because my notes for it consist of a notebook I carry everywhere in which I jot down location, NPC, encounter, or villain ideas I dream up. As of now I have several villains working in the background, but only have the vaguest idea what they’re up to. Every once in a while I’ll have a minion or lieutenant stir up trouble wherever the PCs are and wait for a nibble. When they finally bite down on one then I’ll see about figuring out what he’s really up to.

As an example, a player made up the rumor about the steam-powered city, so while giving them interesting stuff to do and see as they crossed the desert, I was also coming up with ideas for the city, and decided that it was walled in and that the leadership was corrupt, but that’s all I had in mind at that point.

When the party first arrived I made the corruption clear by having the corpulent councilman meet them in his overly-luxurious office. We didn’t get far past that before we ran out of time, and during the following week I came up with a brilliant, but unoriginal idea inspired by the Doctor Who episode “The Hungry Earth“, in which near-future Welsh researchers inadvertently disturb a Silurian city, causing them to awake from stasis and deal with the problem. I found some appropriate monsters in HackMaster Basic and put them in my spreadsheet, expecting to have a large battle with the PCs being one squad among many, but not actually planning anything.

Inevitably, my players, who are the reason why I no longer do any detailed planning for games, came with a plan Q: set up a champions vs champions fight with their leader. If the PCs lost, then the Silurians could have the city the “invaders” had unknowingly built upon their home, but if they won the Silurians had to make peace with the residents and figure out how to share the city. I hadn’t foreseen that in any way, but just ran with it and it turned out to be great fun, especially when the spell-chucker stopped controlling his Skipping Betty Fireball and it circled around the city square, and table, and very nearly ended up hitting the wizard’s player before it finally fizzled (SBF moves a random number of feet in a random direction when not controlled).

That is the power of planprovising. I was well-prepared, but flexible, as I try to always be because it helps keep me, and by extension those around me, from panicking.

D&D 5e Character Library and Conditions Reference

I have uploaded several new aids for D&D 5e. The first two are different versions of a list of conditions: one to be shared by the whole table, and one for individual players. The table version has every condition, paraphrased and converted to second person to hopefully make them easier to understand. With one or two on the table there should be less need for players on both sides of the screen to stall the game while looking up rules. The player version has a condensed list so that four of them can fit on a page.That way each player can have a list of the most common conditions, and can reference the table version for the others.

The other aid is a D&D 5e character library in the form of an OpenOffice spreadsheet, which is a convenient place to keep any number of characters without using up a ton of disk space (important for Dropbox and thumbdrives). There is also a Google Docs version for players who like to keep everything in the cloud. I see the latter as also being used by GMs to keep all of their players’ characters in one place for easy reference.

My next character library will likely be for GURPS since it will be easy, and then I’ll make one for HackMaster 5e for the sake of my current campaign. I may even make one for OVA eventually since I do have about a dozen characters for it. My current focus is on revising my GURPS character creator and finishing the D&D one. That said, the D&D character library is a result of my drive to free up some space on my nearly-full Dropbox, so I may well make the other libraries as part of that process.

UPDATE 2015-04-16: Added space for saving throw values and proficiences. I truly don’t see how I overlooked that before, but it’s there now.

GURPS Extra-Lite

GURPS Extra-Lite

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.
“GURPS Extra-Lite” by Frank Wilcox, Jr (fewilcox) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Also available for download as a PDF.
Last updated 2017-02-23.

What’s on my character sheet?

ST (Strength) – Physical power and bulk. Determines weapon damage and Hit Points (HP).
DX (Dexterity) – Agility, coordination, and fine motor control. Determines attack accuracy.
IQ (Intelligence Quotient) – Creativity, intuition, memory. Determines Per and Will.
HT (Health) – Energy, vitality, stamina, resistance (to disease, poison, etc), and basic “grit”. Determines FP.

HP (Hit Points) – Average characters have 10 HP. At 0 you run the risk of passing out or even dying.
Per (Perception) – Alertness as well as your five senses.
Will (Willpower) – How well you withstand psychological stress and resist supernatural attacks.
FP (Fatigue Points) – These are consumed by strenuous activity and can also be spent for Extra Effort.

BL (Basic Lift) – The maximum weight you can lift over your head with one hand in one second.
Dmg (Damage) – thr = thrust damage; sw = swing damage.
BS (Basic Speed) – Your reflexes and general quickness.
BM (Basic Move) – How many yards you can move in one second. A step is usually 1 yd or hex.

Active Defenses

  • Dodge is used to sidestep, dive behind cover, or otherwise get out of the way of an attack.
  • Block is used to forcibly put something in the way of the attack, normally a shield or cloak, but can only be used against one attack each turn.
  • Parry is used to deflect an attack with your weapon. This leaves heavier weapons unbalanced so they must be Readied before you can make another attack. You can’t parry if you moved more than a step this turn. Parries suffer a cumulative -1 penalty for each parry after the first in the same turn.

Advantages range from really good eyesight to flight to extra limbs to super-powered attacks. In short, anything about your character that is above the ordinary.

Disadvantages are flaws that can make characters more interesting and provide roleplaying opportunities. They also grant you additional Character Points to use when making the character.

Skills are the things your character can do that require some amount of training. Each lists its value, which is the number you roll against when using it, and its relative value, which is how much the skill varies from its related attribute. Effective skill refers to your skill level after any situational modifiers are applied.

How do I do stuff?

Choose the appropriate skill or attribute and roll 3d6. A roll of no more than that number succeeds. For instance, to stop a door from slamming closed you would roll versus your Strength. To hack a computer you would roll against your Computer Hacking skill.

A roll of 3-4 is a Critical Success and always succeeds, as is 5 if your effective skill is at least 15, and 6 if it’s at least 16. Likewise 17 is always a failure, and 18 and any roll at least 10 more than your effective skill are Critical Failures.

If someone is actively opposing you, a Quick Contest may be called for. Both players roll the relevant attributes (Stealth vs Per to hide, ST vs ST to shove, etc.), and whoever rolls better wins. If both fail, then the winner is the one with the lowest Margin of Failure. If both succeed, then the winner is the one with higher Margin of Success.

How do I hit things?

Attack rolls are like any other skill checks: you simply roll against the appropriate skill. On a success, your target gets to make an active defense roll; no defense for critical successes. If the defense fails, roll your damage, then the target subtracts any Damage Resistance (DR) from it before subtracting the rest from HP.

Ranged attacks have two ranges, like this: 10/100. The first is its 1/2D range, meaning that attacks further away deal only half damage. The second is its maximum range.

New D&D 5e Adventuring Gear

Despite its reputation, GURPS’ core is actually very minimalist and leaves the GM to make up a lot of stuff. One result is that after a decade of it being our go-to system, I have developed the habit of just making up any gear I or one of my players needs but the books don’t have. So it should be no surprise that in the course of making four characters for Adventurers’ League I created quite a few things for D&D 5e. After the list are specifics on how I came up with some of the items so you can see the logic behind the numbers. I’m happy to accept feedback on any of these, especially where you see question marks.

  • Backpack, wood-framed (4.8 gp, 8.75 lbs). Capacity 60 lbs or ?? cu ft.
  • Small, blank book (10 gp, 2 lbs)
  • Ball of twine (0 lbs, 1 cp). Possibly 2 cp?
  • Pocket mirror (.1 lbs, 1 gp; based on “Mirror, steel”: .5 lbs, 5 gp)
  • Camp hatchet (2 lb, 2 gp; useless as weapon due to balance)
  • Towel (1 lb, 2 sp; based on blanket: 3 lb, 5 sp)

Backpack, wood-framed: In the real world the oldest known wood-framed backpack is from more than 5 millennia ago, and are still in use today in many parts of the world, so they seem a reasonable addition to D&D. A properly trained porter can comfortably carry hundreds of pounds in one, but 60 lbs seems to be more common, so I went with that for the capacity, but I’m not sure what an appropriate volume would be.

For a starting place for cost and weight I looked at HackMaster 5e, because it already has two different backpacks: one holding 30 lbs, the other 50. Complicating things is that HM5e is intended to be as realistic as is possible in a sword and sorcery world and thus uses a silver-based economy and prices many things in copper, and its weights are drastically different from D&D’s, therefore a direct conversion isn’t possible. So it seems to me that the best idea is to simply apply the same ratios to D&D. The smaller HM5e pack weighs 2 lbs and costs 7 cp and 5 trade coins, while the larger one weighs 3.5 and costs 18 cp, so the ratios between them are 2.4 for cost, and 1.75 for weight. Thus the larger backpack ends up costing 2*2.4 gp and weighing 5*1.75 lbs.

Blank Book: Two of my AL characters are merchants by trade and need easily-portable ledgers, but the 25 gp, 5 lb book on the gear table is pre-filled (“poetry, historical accounts, information pertaining to a particular field of lore, diagrams and notes on gnomish contraptions, or just about anything else that can be represented using text or pictures”) and pretty big and heavy to be useful as a journal of any kind. This is our best guest at a smaller, lighter, blank book.

Pocket Mirror: The mirror in the book weighs half a pound so we assume it’s relatively large for traveling purposes (it weighs significantly more than my 5″x7″ glass camp mirror). In a typical D&D setting they are more likely to be thin highly-polished metal rather than the relatively thick glass we use today, so I assume they’d be even lighter than their modern counterparts. For this particular item I was thinking of something more along the lines of a makeup compact or signal mirror – something in the 2-3″ range. It’s useful to any adventurer as a signal mirror, but especially to Charisma-based characters for checking hair and such before manipulating someone. Creative players could come probably come up with any number of possible uses.

Camp axe: This one is mainly for the sake of sentimentality because I have fond memories of using my old boy scout hatchet when my family went camping every summer. The weight is a rough average of the weights of various camp axes available online, including the very one I still have in storage somewhere. I also based it on the Hammer (3 lb, 1 gp) on the adventuring gear table rather than any weapon, so I made it useless as a weapon since it costs less than half as much as a throwing axe. It’s really only necessary because realistically you would quickly ruin any sort of battle axe using it to chop wood or do other routine camping tasks. Then again, this is D&D so reality can take a flying leap.

Towel: Why is a towel so important, you may ask? Simple: no adventurer should ever be without one.

“Pain is Temporary… Quitting Lasts Forever”

(Post title is a paraphrase of the following quote:
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” –  Lance Armstrong in It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.)

Those of you who follow me on facebook or know me personally may already be aware of this, but for the past couple of months my chronic pain levels reached the point where I was almost totally incapacitated. The most I could type at one time was a paragraph about as long as this one will be when I finish.

As a result, I haven’t been blogging or working on any of my books or short stories because I haven’t been able to. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have been totally unproductive. To make my life GMing D&D Encounters easier, I copy-pasted the relevant monsters from my epub to the spreadsheet that I normally only use to calculate how much XP to give each player. In doing so I discovered that I could do work like that for much longer than serious typing, so I got some other things done instead.

Made D&D 5e Character Sheet More Multi-class Friendly

In making my first multi-classed character, I discovered that my sheet was only slightly better for that purpose than Wizard’s. I rearranged the top matter a bit to make room for listing multiple classes and their levels, leaving the original “Level” space for the character’s total level. The largest difference is that in place of the checkboxes for keeping track of spent hit dice, there are now two boxes for tracking two types of hit dice – there wasn’t room for a third one, or I would have included it.

It has replaced the old version on Scribd.

Added Features to the D&D 5e Grimoire

In putting a caster on a character sheet for the first time, I realized the grimoire could use some additions. Across the top there are now spaces for your spell attack bonus, saving throw DC, the maximum number of spells you can prepare each day (generally caster level + spellcasting ability modifier), and your spell slots.

For the sake of the mage character sheet, I also lightened the color of the headers so the bar wouldn’t bleed through the page as much.

Both have replaced their old versions, linked above.

Mostly Finished GURPS Character Creator Spreadsheets and Half Done With One for D&D 5e

In the course of creating a new GURPS character several months ago I accidentally half-built a GURPS character creator spreadsheet. Over the past couple of months I’ve been slowly revising it. Now all it needs is a little spit and polish.

Inspired by that project, I decided to make one for the current editions of D&D and HackMaster as well. I haven’t yet started the HackMaster one, but the D&D one is at least half done. I have yet to start on the “Race and Class Features” tab, but the mechanics of everything else are mostly, if not completely, done.

The only major things I have left to figure out are how to handle armor and weapon proficiencies, and race-based skills (dwarves, for instance, don’t actually grant proficiency in History, but for all things stonework, they are considered proficient and double their proficiency bonuses).

The gear proficiencies are the big puzzlers. I have only been using lookup tables and other advanced spreadsheet features since a fellow D&D Encounters GM helped me start my GURPS character creator, so I’m mostly learning by doing. Because of that I have no idea how to limit the player’s equipment choices based on the proficiencies granted by the character’s race/class combination. My temporary fix is to simply list them and leave it up to the player to only choose proficient gear. Likewise with limiting the player’s choice of skill proficiencies.

Other than that, all that is need is more spit and polish, and to have local players do their best to break my code and give me their feedback on the user interface (UI). After that I’ll upload a basic version to Scribd as usual, then continue working on actually integrating proficiencies into the various places they are needed.

These are currently my top priority and should be finished fairly soon.

Worked on HackMaster 5e Campaign Manager and Started D&D Version

If you were active on the Kenzer & Company forums when HackMaster Basic first released, you may have seen my original encounter builder spreadsheet. Since then I have incorporated much of my HM4e campaign manager into it, and applied some of my new-found advanced spreadsheet coding skills, as well as the session experience tracker I originally made for D&D Encounters. It is probably only about half done, but is a lower priority than the other projects since it does everything I need it to for my current campaign (it works, but the UI is ugly and a bit clunky), and both D&D and GURPS have larger user bases.

Speaking of the experience calculator, while working on the HM campaign tracker, I slowly added new features to it, gradually turning it into a D&D campaign manager. I am also adapting it into a  generic campaign manager that should be easily user-adaptable to handle just about any level-based fantasy trpg. It will likely become my top priority after I finish the character creators.

As an indicator of how much better I’m doing now, I wrote this entire post in one sitting. I need to rest for a while now because my upper back is starting to flare up pretty intensely, but I was able to ignore it long enough to finish this, so I have high hopes for the near future (although, as always, I’ll sleep and then proofread it tomorrow before actually posting it). On the advice of a doctor, I started taking magnesium supplements a week and a half ago, and it seems like it may be doing the trick. If you suffer from chronic pain, it might be worth a try (but always talk to your doctor before taking any supplement).

So that’s my last couple of months in a nutshell. Keep watching here for updates on my character creators and campaign managers.

D&D (or Any Other Level-based game) Session Experience Calculator

Had a great family vacation, and got a 93 in my online Java class, but now I’m back to focusing on writing and game design. For example:

To compensate for my memory issues and to save a lot of work for non-mathophile GMs, I created a spreadsheet that will calculate how much experience I need to award each player at the end of each session of D&D Encounters.

Using it couldn’t be easier. Type the number of players into the appropriate box at the top of the sheet. Below that you will a list of all of the non-unique monsters that appear in the Tyranny of Dragons season of D&D Encounters. Each row below that is a separate encounter. Simply type in the number of each monster you used in the encounter, and the spreadsheet will do the rest.

It looks up the appropriate amount of experience points (XP) for that monster using the table on the “Data” tab (you can easily add your own, as long as the list doesn’t exceed 50 in all), then uses that to add up the total experience for the encounter. The XP totals for each encounter are added together, then divided by the number of players.

Since quest XP rewards are specified per player rather than as an amount to be subdivided, I have provided a space especially for those. Next to the blue box that tells you how much XP to give each player you’ll see a long red box. Put each quest reward in its own cell within that box, and the spreadsheet will add their sum to the amount in the blue box.

If you understand lookup tables, it is trivially easy to use more than 50 entries in the data table, but I was required to set a limit. I tried to allow more than 15 monsters on the table, but i kept getting an error telling me my formula was longer than OpenOffice could handle. If you know a way around the problem, I’d be happy to hear it.

Naturally, this can be used for any level-based game (as I will for for my HackMaster 5e campaign); it’s just pre-filled out with the monsters for DnD Encounters: Tyranny of Dragons.