Vice and Virtue

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On the nature of having fun for both players and GM.

I love the Victorian period - simple fact, mad people doing mad things, changing the world, themselves, their minds (oh and starting global warming) So I run games set then. Variants are Steampunk, Gothick horror, Science Fiction - . H.G. Wells, Jules Verne,Dickens, Scott, and many other authors are my sources.I like kicking over old stories and letting players at the story - are real players gulible? Will you fall for the same diversion?

I tend to become fixated on mechanics and "parts" of games and I've pretty much for about ten years avoided anyhing with levels and classes. Shadowrun and GURPS were my preferred weapons. A strong tendency to say "yes" leads to a very open game. Which some like and some don't. It makes for harder GM'ing and can lead to players getting confused as to what they want to do or how to resolve a conflict.

Now I feel that conflict is at the heart of any RPG - ideally the "party" is in conflict with "them" to do good. Often a party does things for gain (fine), moral merit (fine) but it can drift into the "kill em because we can" - which I don't like.Conflict does not have to include violence, use what you have to improve a situation or thwart the evil one. Shooting might work, but using the law or information can be just as effective.

Playing (for a change) has refreshed how I see any games. Classes can be cool in a particular setting - constrained but OK they make sense. Levels are a simpler mechanic to count experience and spend experience - it's built in and these things happen. So I'm more open to classes and levels as a mechanic now. For a long time I played Role Master (aka Rules Monster) which had classes, limited species and levels. Role Master (RM) used charts for EVERYTHING. % dice, plus skill plus and modifiers and read the chart - a very effective way of tracking a long task (make something) or a way of reading of - roll x% or less to succeed. This can lead to critical successes and failures which I liked but I'm not sure the current group would like.

In GURPS no classes, no levels - just points to spend. This give much greater freedom but can be overwhelming to play and arbitrate. GURPS character creation is the most open I know. Ideally it should be colaborative with players and GM discussing what would be good and back stories for the advantages. This part of GURPS I deeply like,major NPC's can be built in detail. The down side is that the "cardboard cut-outs" guards, thieves, peasants etc are tricky to do because a design (with skills and bonuses) takes ages for a few minutes use.

So - a downside of GURPS is a shortage of oven-ready fodder with modest skills for the party to get through.

GURPS skills equate (almost always)to the parent stat. On 3d6 skill or less to succeed you can have a pretty good idea of your chances.

Critical success and failure is just "nice one" except in combat. This, in my opinion, is a gap and a half in GURPS. The book says critical success/failure is up to the DM to decide - well I like having a chart and the player rolls and that's fair.

Crits in combat p556 requires more calculation. The GURPS combat ; roll to hit, roll to dodge (if appropriate),roll for damage (per weapon stat), apply damage reduction, if damage still present look up damage multiplier, apply damage multiplier, check if rolling to stay up, apply penalty for being hit on the next round - yes charts look lumpy but I am not in love with the GURPS system.

Let us consider systems we may all know Paranoia - one d20 - two tables (hit and damge, location of damage) Skill - one d20 you did it or you didn't Classic Traveller - 2d6 - mod for armour - roll for abstract damage. Skill - 2d6 - mod for situation - suceed/fail. GURPS 3d6 (getting predictable) - see above for combat. Skill - 3d6 succeed or fail - that feels a little flat to me Shadowrun - many many d6 pool - very predictable - gore fest once the players can afford mods and gear. RM - d% + skill + mods - 2 charts hit and crit - damage and modifiers per chart. Skill - d% plus skill and mods - players reads the chart.

A game is the setting, character generation, "doing stuff" and fighting. I have a preference for players "doing stuff" to reach their chosen destination - not just gun bunny until they give up. Yes in D&D I am going "gun bunny" with a wizard - I'm enjoying it but coming close to dying (if failure had no penalty success would have no reward). Well I feel D&D is meant to be splatville - it's where RPG's started.

Settings - all are good. I find the GURPS "consistent $" and consisent descriptions good. I can build any NPC I want - Jerry is fuly statted and so is Frank - and I can pick a world quickly and easily - from post-apocalyspe zombie to Bronze Age hunters. Equally settings from literature, history, horror, etc can be easily adapted to GURPS. Some of the stuff I'm putting in is lifted grom other games.

Creation - GURPS wins hands down in my opinion for long life campaigns with deep characters. Maybe I'm to free but working out the result is fun.

Mechanics - to me GURPS limps on mechanics and combat. RM excels in doing stuff, the player invests resources, and/or time,to get a roll on the chart. Unlike combat in RM doing stuff rolls are open ended and can be "cinematic" - one can use this system without open ended rolls for a more constrained range of outcomes.

Levels - well I can see where levels helps. In RM, D&D (and others) your level defines your ability, sometimes a level just tells you to amp up your stats (current D&D), or a level gives points to improve a selection of skills (RM). Levels are a mechanic to measure the group provide development. It works in many games.


An ideal campaign would/should/could have session zero. A free conversation on what people could share as a story. It is a story written by the players, luck, tropes on a setting the GM takes responsiblity for.

An agreement on the creation options, the mechanis and the setting at least.

Do you want an open ended sandbox with adventures? (pretty much where you are). Or a fixed saga with a great target to go for - cast DOWN the false idol; find sanctuary for your people; destroy the RING. A connected series of quests. To be the agents of a great power sent to "do wrong in the name of right" err that's Special Circumstances in the Culture novels. Or you can agree a group identity , a style and let the GM rip of another story.

Just now is late for session zero and we are in game - with me needing to print and cut some sheets for figures to put on a plan of the house (hint) and the arsenal (hint? misleading ?)

Feedback is what would be good - say I'm wrong, make demands but take a moment and consider.





Victorian Web - hours of browsing

http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/homework/victorians/inventiotimeline.html - a worthy list of things you DO NOT have, yet, in this timeline if the concept is agreed.

http://www.sea-distances.org/ - pretty much what it says - port to port distances, times calculated and route options included. Perfection when estimating how long and Earthly trip would take.