Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Rituals For Pirates: “Keep Your Powder Dry”

Keep Your Powder Dry
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Matter
Inherent Modifiers: Bestows a Bonus, to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions
Greater Effects: 0 (×1)
When cast upon a TL 4 firearm weighing no more than 10 pounds, this spell acts to offset the Malf. penalties for wet conditions under “Water and Firearms” (GURPS Low-Tech, pg 90), for one day. The given bonus is enough to keep a pirate’s frizzen-equipped flintlock dry in a hurricane. It can’t stand up to full immersion, though!
Typical Casting: Lesser Control Matter (5) + Bestows a Bonus, +3 to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions (4) + Duration, 1 day (7) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0). 16 energy (16 × 1).

Not Every Pirate Can Sing A Shanty

There are some Skills that deserve an honorable mention in the life of a buccaneer, which I overlooked the other day.

Pirates were famous for their music. Sea shanties* would coordinate the labor of groups of sailors. They would play musical instruments when attempting to intimidate their targets. I would expect Singing and Musical Instrument to be well-represented among the Skills of the crew. Either one might be useful as a complimentary skill for Seamanship or Intimidation.

Considering the important role that music plays in most ritual magic, I could see both Singing and Musical Instrument to be helpful to a bokor. I don’t think I would go so far as a complimentary skill roll, but appropriate music might count towards “traditional trappings”, which can substantially reduce the amount of energy required by a ritual.

One of the players asked about Heraldry. My first thought was, if a pirate can tell an English flag from a Spanish one, how much more detail does he need?

Turns out, the real world was more complicated than that.

Still, I don’t recall Jack Sparrow wasting too much brow-sweat on the difference between the flags of Genoa and Naples. When it comes to broad questions of “Is that ship with us, or against us?” or “What language should we use to yell at them?”, I doubt I’ll require anything more than a Perception check to get a good look at a flag. If you want to be sure to be able to tell Prussia from Royal Prussia, or to know why any ship flying the flag of Saxony is suspicious, go ahead and put a point into Heraldry.

That’s for the flags of nations, mind you. Pirate captains had their own flags, as well. One might also identify those with Streetwise, Area Knowledge (Caribbean), or any of several flavors of Current Affairs.

There’s another way 17th-century sailors could identify friend or foe at a distance. Ever hear someone say “I like the cut of your jib” or the like? A jib is a kind of sail, a triangular one ahead of the foremast. Different countries favored different ways of rigging them. The “cut” was the same as in “the cut of one’s clothes”, referring to the way the sail was shaped. The shape of a sail would be visible from much further than the details of a flag, so a knowledgeable sailor could tell a ship’s nationality from the shape of its jib. A roll against any of the “sailor” skills — Boating, Seamanship, or Shiphandling — will reveal the nationality of the crew, even if a ship is trying to conceal its allegiance.


* Yeah, I see the bit where Wikipedia says there have been work songs since who-knows, but the true “sea shanty” didn’t really come into its own until the early 1800’s. I’m hanging my hat on the bit where it says you might find traces of them as early as the mid-1500’s. When history adds color to the game, it’s allowed to come indoors. When it starts tracking too much realism around, out it goes!

Link to back up the word-of-mouth

I’ve been meaning to post a link to Shooting Dice, Hans-Christian Vortisch’s blog, since I’ve mentioned it to my players so often in conversation. I was reminded again by this recent post and finally bestirred myself. That post takes a gunfight from Breaking Bad and tears it apart into all the crunchy GURPS maneuvers and modifiers. If you poke around in the archives, you’ll find a bunch of similar GURPS-ification of scenes from TV and movies. Really rewarding stuff.

Reading these scene breakdowns, I realized a couple of things.

First, mooks spend a lot of time taking a Do Nothing maneuver. They’ll be caught flat-footed, or distracted, or Stunned, or something. The one thing that you can bet a TV mook will not do is, take an Attack maneuver on their every turn. It’s striking to me how many fight scenes boil down to “Hero gets in the first telling blow. Bad guys never get it together again.” Here is a wonderful example.

That “first telling blow” bit leads directly to the second, more important realization:  the “Cascading Waits” section from GURPS Martial Arts, page 108, is really super-duper useful and I should be making it my good friend. That thing that they do in the movies, where the camera flashes around to everybody’s eyes as they realize they’re going to combat time? That’s a Quick Contest…


Zombies, Two For The Price Of One

Before the last campaign, the apocalypse campaign, I swore a mighty oath that I would include no zombies. (… with the caveat that I could include things that weren’t zombies, but looked like they were, like sick people and zombie walkers.) The reason why was, one of my players has been talking for a long, long time now about starting up a true Zombie Apocalypse Game, in the Walking Dead tradition. I want to play in that campaign. I didn’t want to steal his thunder. So, no zombie apocalypses for me.

I didn’t promise any such thing about the pirate game.

Really, given the genre and the presence of Hollywood-grade voodoo, you’ve got to expect some kind of zombies. In On Stranger Tides (the book, not the Pirates Of The Caribbean movie), there’s evidence for two different kinds. One is a corpse, animated by magic. The other is a living person who has lost control of their will to a ritual magician.

Word is, one of my players is set on playing a bokor. Clearly, I need to cook up some zombie-creating rituals.

(Caveat: I’ve read through the GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic pdf a couple of times, I’ve read a lot about it on the forums and on different blogs [cough Ravens N’ Pennies cough], but I’ve never before used the system in a real, live game. Your mileage may vary, or the vehicle might go up like a Roman candle, I just dunno…)

(Note: I’m using Christopher R. Rice’s “Summoned” modifier.)


Raise Zombie

Spell Effects: Greater Control Undead + Lesser Create Undead

Inherent Modifiers: Summoned

Greater Effects: 1 (x3)

This spell animates a nearby corpse as a zombie. The starting materials must be mostly intact. The result will use the Reanimated Corpse template from page 100 of GURPS Zombies. Unless the duration is extended with a subsequent ritual, the zombie will return to its natural state after a week.

Typical Casting: Greater Control Undead (5) + Lesser Create Undead (6) + Summoned, 25% of total (4) + Duration, 1 week (9) + Subject weight, 300 lbs (3). 81 energy (27×3).


Dominate Thrall

Spell Effects: Greater Control Mind + Greater Transform Mind

Inherent Modifiers: none

Greater Effects: 2 (x5)

This spell overwhelms the will of a touched sentient target, making them a mostly-willing servant of the caster. The target will follow orders, though some commands (the obviously suicidal, those that threaten loved ones or deeply-held beliefs) might trigger a new resistance roll, possibly at a bonus. In the absence of orders, the target will do whatever seems to them to be in the best interests of the caster.

If the effect is not maintained regularly, the target will regain control of their mind in a week. When the effect ends, the target can remember the entire ordeal.

Typical Casting: Greater Control Mind (5) + Greater Transform Mind (8) + Duration, 1 week (9). 110 energy (22×5).


Enslave Thrall

Spell Effects: Greater Control Mind + Greater Create Mind + Greater Sense Mind

Inherent Modifiers: none

Greater Effects: 3 (x7)


An improved version of Dominate Thrall (inspired by comments here). This version creates a copy of the caster’s mind within the mind of the target to keep an eye on them. Thus, when presented with a situation outside of their orders, the thrall will do whatever is in the best interests of the caster, as defined by the caster, not the target.

Typical Casting: Greater Control Mind (5) + Greater Create Mind (6) + Greater Sense Mind (2) + Duration, 1 week (9). 154 energy (22×7).


A Pirate’s Life For Me

A question came up concerning the upcoming Pirates campaign:  Will it be like the Space Cowboys game, where there were certain jobs on the crew that had to be filled or else everybody dies stranded in the cold vacuum or, even worse, goes broke… or like the Dungeon Fantasy game, where there’s a defined mission but how you accomplish it is up to you… or the apocalypse game, where part of the fun was throwing together a bike mechanic, a clown, a bookbinder, and an elderly gardener, and throwing them to the wolves? Will the players need to coordinate to make sure everybody has a job, and all the work gets done? Or can they take a more free-wheeling approach?

The answer is, a little bit of both. Let me explain…

Pirate society — at least, the GURPSified, romanticized pirate society I’m aiming for — is going to be made up of a few broad classes of characters. There will be a few cabin boys, powder monkeys, and addlepated mascots, coming in around 25-30 points, or even less. Nobody will listen to them, and they’ll be largely disposable. Next, there’s the bulk of the crew, the able seamen, the ones who do all the climbing and lifting that goes on in the background. They’ll be somewhere around 75 points, give or take. When it comes time for group decision-making, they’ll be doing the voting, but they’re unlikely to come up with any plans on their own. They need leadership. Finally, there’s the exceptional characters, 100+ points, who make up the skilled crew and the folks who stand out from the crowd. The leadership, in other words. This is where you’ll find the PCs. Whatever their apparent rank, they’re 150 point characters, so they’re certain to shine brightly.

Any ship worth using for piracy in the 1660’s is going to have several dozen crew. GURPS Low-Tech Companion 2: Weapons and Warriors suggests a sloop of war as a common ship among pirates, carrying a crew of 70. With a crowd that size, there’s no need to have a PC covering every noteworthy position. The less-exciting jobs can be left to NPCs. (As an added bonus, there should be plenty of semi-nameless NPCs hanging around to be promoted to full PC status, in case of sudden, unexpected PC loss!)

Since the NPCs will be handling the boring work, I expect the PCs will gravitate towards the exciting jobs. When it comes to piracy during the Age of Sail, that means boarding, above all else. The whole draw of a pirate game is the possibility of swinging ship-to-ship with a cutlass clutched between your teeth and a flintlock in both hands, clinging to a ratline with your peg-leg and sheer wickedness. Who’s going to pass that up to play the ship’s accountant? Therefore, I expect certain skilled jobs to be restricted to NPCs, for those who wouldn’t be taking part in any villainous derring–do, like the ship’s surgeon. Those guys are probably half-captive anyway.

Specific jobs on a pirate crew are somewhat fluid. If you’ve got the skills, you’re in the running for the gig. For whatever reason, it’s a cliche that anybody who knows their way around a kitchen can gain a position of respect among a pirate crew, by taking over cooking duties from whatever hapless slob got stuck with the job last. The crew could even vote in a new captain. PCs need to be defined by what they can do, not their title. In particular, no PC can drop points into Rank and claim the captaincy. There’s no “captain” template, there’s just the person in charge when the cannons start firing.

So. Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

At the beginning of the first session, the PCs will be among the crew of one Captain Courvoisier, an older buccaneer who has been heard to fondly mention his looming retirement. Anybody who wants a particular job on Courvoisier’s crew needs to take the appropriate skills. If two people want the same job, and there’s no other way to settle it, we’ll handle it the pirate way, and open with a duel…😉

I doubt anybody will want the position of carpenter, or sail maker, or surgeon. It’s unlikely that the position of master gunner would be interesting, but with all the cannon and explosions and so forth, it might be. Finally, on a properly run ship of the Royal Navy, there would be a dedicated navigator. A pirate ship might, or might just have a person or two with points in Navigation (Sea), handling those duties in addition to their own.

Then there’s the leadership team. The captain is in charge overall, so long as he keeps the support and confidence of the crew. The captain needs the skills of a boarder, being expected to lead from the front. The quartermaster is in charge of stores and loot, and is supposed to represent the crew to the captain. The bosun is in charge of the ship itself and its maintenance. (The bosun’s the one who’ll tell folks to swab the deck. The quartermaster’s who’ll flog the sailor who tells the bosun where to go.) The bosun needs more core seamanship skills than the others, but what all three need is social skills. A charismatic captain doesn’t need to know the stern from a hole in the ground, but an unpopular captain won’t stay in charge for long.

Speaking of social skills, Long John Silver went from ship’s cook to pirate captain. Plenty of PC-grade characters start off in the galley.

Most of the pirates on a ship will be just plain sailors, with a sprinkling of cabin boys. (And cabin girls, I hear, in the case of one PC.) They’ll need solid seamanship skills to play the role. Given the point totals, I would expect any PC starting at this level to be quickly promoted to a position of responsibility.

There’s one other position that’ll be filled on the campaign’s pirate ships, even though it’s not a traditional navy post. Many ships will carry a bokor, a sorcerer skilled in the ways of voodoo. Like the captain, a ship’s bokor might not have any great skills as a seaman. Instead, the bokor’s job is to handle the spirits. Specifics vary from sorcerer to sorcerer. One might whistle up the wind, while another might scry for rich, easy targets. Aside from helping, in whatever way, with the taking of prizes, a bokor is expected to be the ship’s expert in all things uncanny.


Every-Pirate Skills (and other traits)

There are certain Skills that are all but ever-present in a pirate-themed GURPS game.

Seamanship is the most common Skill aboard a pirate ship. Having points in Seamanship is what makes a person a useful crew-member. Since we’re talking about a 17th-century sailing ship, a point in Knot-Tying should be considered a prerequisite for Seamanship. A member of the crew who is going to go aloft in the rigging would be wise to invest in Climbing, as well.

The counterpart to Seamanship is Shiphandling. It’s the skill of directing the crew. Page 220 of the GURPS Basic Set: Characters tells us that one needs points in Leadership, Navigation (Sea), and Seamanship before buying Shiphandling. Only a handful of people will need this Skill, but it’ll be a key skill when it comes time to take a prize. Similarly, Freight Handling would be of great use to the crew, but only a few members would need points in it to supervise loading and unloading of cargo.

While Navigation (Sea) will tell you where to go, Weather Sense will tell you when it’s best to stay home.

A knowledge of smaller boats is likely to be useful and common. Boating (Unpowered) is required to take out a rowboat, while Boating (Sailboat) is necessary if under sail. Smaller boats can often transition back and forth from one specialization to the other, so it’s best to invest in both.

If a character is going to aim the cannon, that character needs to put points into Gunner (Cannon), while those using mortars will want Artillery (Cannon). Loaders and assistants don’t appear to need either Skill, though it could be helpful. A skilled crew might improve rate of fire, for instance.

Now that we’ve sailed up to a target and unloaded the cannon, it’s time for boarding. Most pirates are going to want some sort of combat skill for when the fighting moves from ship-to-ship to hand-to-hand. (Also useful for settling fine points of justice between sailors.)

The favorite ranged combat skill is Guns (Pistol), for flintlock pistols, with Guns (Musket) close behind, for longer arms. A TL4 sharpshooter might have Guns (Rifle), but they would be more commonly found on land. At TL4, it was expected that a gun would be fired and then be used as a melee weapon for the rest of the fight (see GURPS Low-Tech pg 63, under “Musket or Rifle” and “Pistol”), so a pirate might also want Axe/Mace or Two-Handed Axe/Mace for the follow-up.

The classic pirates’ weapon is the Cutlass, customarily used with the Shortsword skill. It also offers the option of a hilt punch, using Boxing, Brawling, or Karate. Other melee weapons commonly used during the Age of Sail include the boarding pike (not the Pike from GURPS Low-Tech, which has a Reach of “4,5”, but the Spear, with a maximum effective Reach of 2), the boarding axe (certainly used with Axe/Mace skill, but could use the weapon stats of a Hatchet, Axe, Small Axe, or even a Pick), and all manner of knives and improvised clubs.

Historically speaking, few 17th-century sailors knew how to swim. Cinematic pirates, on the other hand, all seem to be Trained By An Otter, and it works well for them.

Pirates who find themselves marooned on some deserted shore had better hope they have points in Survival (Island/Beach) or possibly Survival (Jungle). Knowledge of several languages is also quite common among pirates.

Regarding traits beyond Skills…

Sense of Duty (Brethren of the Coast) [-10] and/or Code of Honor (Pirate’s) [-5] are highly recommended. Remember, this isn’t an attempt to be true to history. The pirates might be unwashed, violent thieves, but they’re the Good Guys!

Most pirates aren’t rich (yet!), and the usual pirate load-out (cutlass, pistol or two, rags, bare feet) isn’t all that expensive. A Wealth level of Struggling or worse is recommended, but not required.

One who has been convicted of piracy, but not hung for it, might have Social Stigma (Criminal Record). They’re also likely to be sporting a stylish brand, just like Captain Jack Sparrow.

Speaking of which… being a pirate puts one firmly on the wrong side of somebody. In this case, that means Enemy (Spanish Navy, 9 or less) [-20] at a minimum, for nearly any conceivable PC. The price is based on “a city police department” from GURPS Basic Set: Characters, page 135, figuring that’s the default value for “wanted by the authorities”. A really famous pirate might bump up to a -30 point Enemy, if pursued by entire fleets or especially powerful ships. Off-hand, the only way I can see for a member of a pirate crew to avoid taking the Enemy would be if they could claim to be serving under duress. Such a state of grace wouldn’t last long. It’s hard to claim one’s innocence when caught red-handed, forcing captives to walk the plank.


After The End Of The End; or, What Was Up With The Pink Snow?

I promised that I would go back and fill in some of the blanks from the apocalypse game (see session 1, session 2, session 3, and session 4). There are lingering questions, like, “What the heck was going on there?” and “You said there were no zombies! You’re a liar!

Since the campaign started before the GURPS After Thed End series began, I never wrote up a formal description, but here’s how it would look in hindsight:

Primary Cause: X-Factor (ATE2 pg 7)

Secondary Effects:

  • Bombs Away (ATE2 pg 4)
  • Mega-Virus (ATE2 pg 5)
  • Things Fall Apart (ATE2 pg 6)

Appropriate Hazards: Chemicals and Munitions, Disease, Gangs, Paramilitaries, conceivably Radiation

Max TL Reached: TL 8

How long ago:  GM looks meaningfully at watch

Location/Setting: The ruins of Portland and surrounding areas

Campaign Style and Morality: Depressingly gritty and shades-of-grey

But what does all that mean, really?

Well, it was aliens.

During the first few minutes of (I think) the second session, one of the players proudly announced his bet for the ultimate source of the trouble:  “Panspermia!”  I was startled, because… he was basically correct. The aliens were “reverse terraforming” Earth.

About the only plot-twist I had planned for the aliens was that they weren’t coming from the skies. These aliens had been on the planet for a long time. They were going to come out of the oceans. My vague intention was to tie them to the Cthulhu Mythos somehow, probably playing off the “dead Cthulhu waits dreaming” angle. The plan was to associate the falling stars from session 1 with “when the stars are right”. They came to the planet centuries (at least) ago, concealed themselves at the deepest parts of the oceans, and gathered their strength for a brutal takeover.

The pink snow was a product of the aliens. It was a biological weapon, a pollen that caused a terrible disease in those who came in contact with it. (Not the stuff to stick in one’s mouth.) The disease would cause bleeding, mental confusion, restlessness, aimless wandering, and eventual death. Those who didn’t die from it could end up with long-term brain damage.

Incidentally, I based the disease’s writeup off several of the sample diseases from GURPS After the End 2: The New World. When I first read the sample world-killer diseases, I was skeptical. They seemed like serious problems, sure, but enough to destroy civilization? Does “HT-4 to resist” really equate to a 90+% fatality rate? … and then we rolled all the resistance rolls for Cypys’ agonizing night of quarantine. Turns out, any disease that inflicts a HT penalty as one of its effects is going to be startlingly effective.

Which brings us directly to the “zombies”. The crowds of moaning, shambling folks who were bleeding from the eyes — they weren’t zombies, they were victims. They were the walking wounded, not the walking dead. They were people who had failed enough HT checks to start suffering the obvious effects of the pink snow disease. Yes, every time a PC poked one of these guys with a stick until they fell down, they were tripping a sick person. Don’t think it wasn’t still a good idea, though. I was watching for the first time one of the “zombies” managed to make physical contact with a PC, causing all manner of exposure to infectious bodily fluids.

If you’re reviewing the material looking for zombies, there’s one other candidate that I can think of:  Al, the would-be looter who got picked up by a tripod. When he emerged, he was wearing a wire skullcap and seemed to have had some personality changes. In time, more of these capped individuals would have turned up. Of course, the caps were a way for the aliens to control the humans who resisted the pink snow disease.

I stole the “aliens in tripods using caps to control the minds of humans” idea from the Tripods books, by John Christopher. (And at least one person called me on it.)  I’ve always wanted to use those tripods in a game. I’ve been a big fan since I was a kid. I remember being fascinated by the BBC series on TV, and then by the comic strip adaptation in Boys’ Life. The comic prompted me to search for the books, back then. Not too long ago, one of my kids reminded me of the books when he picked up the first one. For the apocalypse game, I changed the aliens’ methods and motivations, but kept the iconic visuals.

That wasn’t the big literary theft, though. The original core idea for the campaign — that an alien race might try to adjust the ecology of our planet for their own purposes — came from David Gerrold’s War Against The Chtorr. (Good luck finding all the books. There was a GURPS book for 3rd Edition, now out of print, and likely to stay that way, from what I understand of how licensing rights go.)  Those books were also the source for the visuals, if not the effects, of the pink snow. The worms came from there, as well, but they never got enough game time to grow to their full “Greyhound bus” size.

Really, the underlying themes of the apocalypse game came from the Chtorr books, too. The main character in the books is a scientist who is working against the “chtorraforming” of Earth. (Massive over-simplification, but whatever.) A lot of the story is spent just trying to figure out what’s going on. At one point, it is observed that the end of the human race might already be inevitable, no matter how hard or effectively they fight back. Nobody knows for sure. When the worms first appear, humanity is too busy fighting the plagues to take notice. They don’t even think about the possibility that the plagues are alien until long after they’re over, when the worms and other extraterrestrial plants and animals start showing up. There’s a lot of talk about how there are no truly sane people among the survivors. How bad is the survivors’ guilt when an entire world dies? How does PTSD manifest when the trauma was the death of an entire civilization?

My take-aways, from the Chtorr books especially, but also from nearly every other good end-of-the-world story that I read:

  • Nobody’s sane and stable, after the end.
  • Nobody really knows what the heck happened.

Let’s see, are there any other lingering questions?

The glow to the north in session 1 was, indeed, Seattle being nuked. I hadn’t entirely decided if it was aliens destroying a human city, or humans pursuing a desperate “scorched earth” strategy, but I was leaning towards blaming the aliens. That would fit with the repeated rumors that coastal cities around the world were being destroyed.

There was some resistance to the aliens, which explains the plane crash from session 1. Portland has an Air National Guard base, with the 142nd Fighter Wing stationed there. What the PCs saw during the first few minutes of session 1 was those pilots putting up a doomed defense of Portland.

Judith chose to do what she did because of a series of bad reaction rolls. She started off feeling some gratitude for her rescue from the burning house, but her harsh reception afterwards put a bad taste in her mouth. When she heard about the grocery store gang, she figured she could do worse than to switch from the scruffy-and-sorta-hostile group to the well-armed and well-fed group.



Shiver me timbers! The poll be closed!

The voting seems to have settled down, so it’s time to close the poll. With 58 votes cast, we’ve come up with a tie, between “Pirates!” and “Apocalypose Again: Fifteen Years Later”. Given the desire for a change of pace, I’m going to break the tie in favor of the pirate game. Everybody’s got to run one, right?

For inspiration, I’ll be re-reading Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides.  Yes, they made a Disney movie that used the name and the movie rights to the book, but the two are actually quite distinct. They use all the same pieces, but the results are different.

After flipping through my copy of GURPS Swashbucklers (3rd edition, but still useful) and doing some scholarly research (*cough*), I’m leaning towards starting the campaign during the time of the buccaneers. Say, 1657, when the governor of Port Royal invited the Brethren of the Coast to use that port. PCs are assumed to be members of the Brethren, based out of Port Royal and/or Tortuga. That year puts us firmly into TL4.

A thing to keep in mind here is that the Brethren are tight. They have been forged by shared adversity. They’ve been hunted by the same governments. Even members of different crews, on different ships, on different business, will help each other out. They won’t steal from each other. They won’t cheat one another. The assumption is that any member of the Brethren will have Sense of Duty (Brethren of the Coast) for -10 points, and quite likely a Pirate’s Code of Honor as well.

Another advantage of using the Brethren is that they seem to have operated in a democratic/anarchic way, making them a natural source for PCs. They were, according to GURPS Swashbucklers (page 61)

…English, Dutch, French, and other nationalities, and were largely criminals, escaped indentured servants, and out-of-work sailors, but with an occasional gentleman adventurer.

Yup, that sounds like PCs to me.  Finally, the Brethren fought the Spanish. At the time, Spain was engaged in the slave trade. If you take a romantic view of history, you could see a sort of “rag-tag band of freedom fighters against the vast empire” story shaping up here. It might be possible to have a band of PCs who consider themselves the good guys, not just another random gang of murder-hobos.

(I guess they would be murder-seamen in this campaign, though, wouldn’t they?)

This implies that the center of action for the campaign would be somewhere around the southern end of Cuba, between Haiti and Jamaica. Sailing ships in the mid-17th-century had quite a range, though, so there’s no telling where the story might go from there.

Now, I know my players. I know the second question is going to be about magic.

(The first question would be “Can I play a vampire? ghost? demon? alien? time-traveller? Batman? James Hetfield? small block of overripe cheese? Pete?” The answer would be, no.)

Given the genre and setting, I think this would be an excellent time for us to experiment with Ritual Path Magic, from GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic. I’ve threatened my group with this magic system before. It’s the one where most magic is going to be cast as a ritual, and where there’s a mechanical benefit for packing in a lot of ceremony and incense and so forth, so the magic should feel more like what you see in the movies than the casual spell-slinging of Dungeon Fantasy. There’s a lot more flexibility, as well. Rather than being restricted to a single list of spells, that’s it and that’s all, a RPM spellcaster can try to do just about anything. Want to curse the governor so any time he wants a hard-boiled egg, he gets soft-boiled instead?

With magic comes other spookiness, so I’ll be open to the weird traits, like Medium or True Faith, that seem to be true to the genre. Keep in mind, I’m not expecting “Harry Potter on a boat”, though. No more than “Ars Magica on a boat” at the very most.

My usual quirks about PC traits apply. Don’t bother with Weirdness Magnet. It exists in a notional sort of way, but you’ll never see it in the wild. Feel free to be Cursed. Just know that mine is an evil laugh, and your character shall pray for the sweet release of death before the end of the first session.

I’ll allow appropriate styles from GURPS Martial Arts. Page 245 of that work points us towards the various fencing arts, as well as Bare-Knuckle Boxing, Capoeira, Dagger Fighting, and Savate. I would expect the Traditional French School and French Smallsword to be somewhat more common among the Brethren who put any points into a fencing style at all. Most won’t.

PCs start with 150 points, with up to -75 in Disadvantages and up to 5 Quirks. Starting wealth is $2000.

Any questions?


The next campaign: What to play?

They say when one door closes, another one opens, and so it is for role-playing games: one campaign gets taken out behind the barn for a merciful end, another campaign comes bounding along full of hope and excitement.

This time, I’m thinking we’ll leave it up to a vote. I’ve set up a poll, below. (Hopefully, assuming I’ve figured out how to set all the switches and which buttons to push.) Don’t be shy, voting is open to anybody who comes along. You can vote for your favorite three, so here’s an open invitation to put in your six cents’ worth!

Here’s the list of possibilities that have been kicked around at one time or another.

Old West

We did GURPS Deadlands, loosely converted to 4th edition, long ago. Ever since, there’s been an urge to revisit the Wild West, only this time, without the steampunk gadgetry, evil gambler magic, and desert kraken. How about a group of PCs driving a herd of cattle up the Chisholm Trail, or prospectors in California in the spring of ’49?

Kung Fu Platypus/Seven Magnificent Sloths

A bloody martial arts epic, either in the tradition of Mythic China wire-fu or ninja-and-samurai chambara, but with anthropomorphic animals. Inspired by Kung Fu Panda, Usagi Yojimbo, and the like. Definitely not played deadly serious. Would likely require us to step up our game when it comes to hand-to-hand.

Six-Way Supers

This one’s a bit of a thought experiment. Those who have played in my previous GURPS Supers games have mentioned enjoying them, but they were a lot of work. I asked myself, what would make a supers game easier to run? Well, honestly, the first thing that came to mind was, don’t try to emulate a published comic book universe, but a close second was, reign in the number of power sets. So, how about a supers campaign where there are only (say) six super powers? There might be many individuals with any given power, but if there are only a few powers to choose from, it would really simplify the playing field.

I think this one’s mainly inspired by vague memories of Cybergeneration, where a bunch of the kids of the original cyberpunk generation ended up with nanotech-induced powers.


The classic adventure genre of fire-and-forget weaponry: you fire it, then you forget it, because you won’t get a chance to reload until after the fight’s done. Special bonus for those coming off the last campaign: crippled limbs are no problem! Busted leg? Here’s a peg! Mangled hand? Have a hook! Lost an eye? Fashionable eye-patch! Comes with a discounted parrot as a package deal! Arr!

TL 12 Sci-Fi

This one isn’t so much a half-baked idea as the answer to an idle question. We’ve had a great run with the TL9 Space Cowboys campaign, with its weird TL10 core worlders, so what if we went a step or two further, to TL11 or 12? Depending on how much psionics complication we’re willing to put up with, this could turn into either Star Trek or Star Wars. Maybe even something without “star” in the name.

The Rats of R.O.L.F.

A somewhat more serious take on the old “Catageddon” campaign idea. The PCs are unnaturally-intelligent woodland creatures in a world of humans, as in the Rats of NIMH stories. I see this quickly turning into a fantasy game with little-to-no magic and some offbeat monsters. (“It is the weiner dog! Flee!”)


Kinda like post-apoc, but more hopeful and with better scenery. The PCs are members of a Stone Age tribe – probably younger members of a hunting band. That’s it, that’s all. No magic, no psionics, no dinosaurs, no alien monoliths. No shoes. Just TL0 skills and chipped stone technology. First adventure: hunt and kill a mammoth. The skill list would be short, but I would hope to make Singing and Public Speaking as useful as Brawling and Spear.

Yeah, yeah, I played a little Far Cry Primal, but this one’s been building since long before that. I’ve been threatening a TL0 game ever since I first ran across the idea of Machinist/TL0 being the skill of knapping stone.

Monster Hunters

The genre-and-template books have treated us right in the past, and I was once a real big Buffy fan, so it’s actually a little surprising that we’ve not yet tried GURPS Monster Hunters. I know one or two of the players have previously expressed interest in the magic system, but one of them hasn’t been able to play with us of late, and I’m not sure anybody else has the stomach for that much complication right now. That’s fine, though, there’s plenty of fun to be had just pumping silver bullets into werewolves.

Dungeon Fantasy again but with less mega-dungeon

Part of me isn’t real keen on this, because I don’t want to compete with the other DF game. On the other hand, nobody worried about competition back when “roleplaying” meant “D&D”, so…  The last DF game was fun, but there was a certain amount of trouble with the One Big Dungeon. So how about we take it on the road, the way the game’s expected to be played? Wandering adventurers, travelling from place to place, destabilizing village economies in their wake…

Apocalypse Again: Fifteen Years Later

Speaking of horses running back into a burning barn, what if we came back to the apocalypse game, but after 15-20 years have passed? This would be a real post-apocalyptic GURPS After The End game, 150-point characters, based on templates. Same old pink snow, pink worms, and mind-controlling tripods, but this time, there would be lots more mohawks and the PCs would be more Max Rockatansky than Turk Barrett.

Vote early, vote often!

What Went Wrong

Last session was fun, but it’s looking like the last session of the apocalypse game. The players described it as a TPK where all the characters lived, but the party died. The vibe is, we’re done with this campaign. It’s time to move on.

So, not a hit. That’s ok. But what have we learned? What went wrong?

Scheduling Is A Killer

What with one thing and another, the gaming schedule this past year has been hit-or-miss, with maybe a slight edge to the “miss” side. It’s hard to build up story momentum when you’re only averaging one get-together every three months. Maybe we should try some one-offs, or short campaigns, rather than aiming for the long haul from the beginning.

Fifty Points Ain’t Much

Small point totals and mundane characters means non-adventurer PCs. When people who aren’t adventurers go out trying to do a bunch of adventurer stuff, they kinda don’t do all that well. Then they die slowly.

This isn’t really a surprise so much as the original campaign premise… but I think we proved the point. Trying to sneak around while rolling against defaulted Stealth. Being unable to shoot the giant pink monster that’s right freakin’ there, or not knowing how many more shots the bad guy has because nobody put points into Guns. It’s fun for a bit, but gets old as a steady diet.

Simple solution: more points. Not every character has to be over a thousand points, but there’s a world of competence in between 50 and 150 points.

The End Of The World Is A Real Downer

Speaking of something getting real old, real quick and things that aren’t really surprises, it turns out that the end of the world is a pretty depressing subject. I think a true After The End campaign wouldn’t be so bad, because the world’s already wrecked when the PCs arrive on the scene. Dwelling on the death rattle starts to wear on one’s morale, long-term. Even a crapsack world (warning, TVTropes!) is better than one that’s still sliding downhill.

* * *

We’ll be shaking things up for the next session. Next: what to play?

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