Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: dice

Interpretation, pt 2: “We must consult the bones…”

“Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit” – “Man proposes, but God disposes” — Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Players don’t tell the GM what their PC does, they say what their PC tries.  The dice say what the PC actually does.

You can see this clearly demonstrated in the combat rules. Alric might set out to plant his axe in the forehead of some overwrought ogre, but if Alric’s player rolls an 18, it’s the Critical Miss Table that says where that axe really ends up. It happens outside of combat, too. Will rolls, especially, get to take the controls away from the player from time to time. If someone’s interrogating Needles, and he crit fails his Will roll, he’s going to let something spill, no matter what his player claims.

The dice also take care of everything that’s below the game’s level of detail. An example from the Space Cowboys game:  Dr Nanika had just completed an examination of an unconscious patient, and hadn’t been able to determine a diagnosis. (I can’t say for certain, but I believe this was during the part of the story when they were trying to understand all the strange things that were happening due to the Zombie Plague, before they figured out there was such a thing.) In the real world, of course, this was no more than the player saying “I’ll examine him and try to figure out what’s up”, then rolling Diagnosis. In-game, Dr Nanika did her thing; just like an episode of any medical drama you care to name, she did tests and performed procedures and consulted references. After all was said and done, she came out of sickbay and announced that she was stumped. Bubba asks, “Did you check him for head wounds?”

The players turned to look at me expectantly. Nanika’s player half-reached for her dice. I pointed out that if Dr Nanika had forgotten to check for the possibility that the patient had been bopped on the head and knocked out, until the ship’s mechanic brought it up, she needed to go back to Mars University and demand a refund.

There’s a lot of games that my group could never play. We’re just not equipped. No matter how much we might enjoy watching the antics of TV doctors through the ages, we can’t talk that talk. Anything medical in our games is always going to come down to dice-rolling and hand-waving. I’m more likely to give a re-roll for the player chewing the scenery than I am for someone remembering an obscure medical factoid. (Doc throws her stethoscope to the side, rips Bubba’s shirt open, and starts beating him with a lead pipe while screaming, “Live, damn you, live! I won’t have another brother’s blood on my hands!”… yeah, that’s worth another throw of the dice.) I don’t have the knowledge to talk details, so the dice handle all that for me. Did the doc stitch the patient up correctly?  Must have, since the roll for the procedure was a success…

What I do, as the GM, is, I’ll look at the dice, and base actions and outcomes on margin of success or failure. If the roll fails by just a tiny bit, one or two, then I’ll often describe it as a bit of bad luck, or something unexpected. The wind shifts, or a cloud goes across the sun. The sneaky person suddenly has to sneeze. If it’s an extravagant failure, by 8 or 9, I’ll aim more for incompetence, as the task is just beyond the character’s skills. Instead of cutting the red wire, the character slips and nicks the blue wire. The sneaky person trips over their own feet and falls out from behind the curtain. In the same way, if someone rolls really well, I’ll try to describe the action so as to make them look that much better, cooler, more skillful. That’s how we get things like Needles knowing how to disable the trap by grabbing it’s trigger just as it’s going off.

 

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What I Would Do With A d100

I might use it to expand the rumor table. I started off with a d20-based table, but felt like there were too many repeated numbers. These days, it’s a d30-based table, one story per number, and it feels like there’s a better chance of avoiding double hits. On the down side, it’s apparently possible for rumors to hang out in the table for a long time before they’re heard. I’ve removed a couple of rumors from the table because the party ran into the truth behind them.  (In hindsight, I think it would have been better to leave them in. It might be fun to have them hear the stories after the fact.)

If I had a d100, I might be tempted to tinker with the table. I wouldn’t try to continue with the “one per number” arrangement. That way lies madness. Instead, I would cut the 100 possibilities into bands of probability.  For example — just spitballing, really — but I might set up a table with five “common” slots of 10% each, eight “uncommon” slots of 5% each, and 10 “rare” slots of 1% each. Thus, if the player rolls 01-10, they get the first common rumor on the list. If they roll over 50, they get the more obscure stuff. Anything in the 91-00 area is obscure stuff.

Over all, that’s only 23 rumors, so I’m cutting the number of subjects to talk about by 7, from the current d30-based system.  That looks like it would increase the number of double hits. However… within each rumor, I might have slightly different information for each number.

For example, let’s say 01-10 is the band for “Goblinoid raiding”.  The PCs know that the local goblinoids go raiding, because they’ve heard how Bruno’s cloth shipment was stolen, and then recovered the goods, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there would be talk about the raids. Within that band, though, I can offer ten different takes on the same information. Perhaps one thread of information concerns Bruno offering a reward for the return of his stolen goods and appears on 01-05, a couple of others are stories told by different farmers who saw the raiders leaving the scene, with one story keyed to 06-07 and the other 08-09, and finally, rolling a 10 gets a garbled, drunken confession from a goblin who managed to talk his way into town and tavern.

Or, let’s say that the over-arching rumor category is about the return of Ancient Evil Dude and how he’s looking for his favorite lost magic item.  There could easily be ten different clues for that story, without any overlap at all:  rangers on the move in the wilderness; dragon-mounted patrols flying out of the ruins of A.E.D.’s old stronghold; chatter among the orc tribes; undead on the move; ominous omens from cleric, wizard, and druid.

Obviously, I could do all of this with the traditional d100 of two d10’s… but then we’d lose the pure joy of rolling the weird dice. The whole point would be to adapt the mechanics to give folks the chance to throw the golf ball.

(Oh, and: 100th post. La!)

 

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