Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mecha Against the Giants: Session 3

Mecha Against the Giants was supposed to be an intermittent game, but some scheduling difficulties with my online group's nominally main campaign means that I've had the opportunity to run it three weeks in a row. Which is good, because I'm excited about it and it's silly and fun and it deserves some momentum. I'm still looking forward to getting back to the regular game next week.

Continuing Technical Issues

Last session, I had technical issues because I was at a hotel and couldn't configure the firewall. For this session, I was back home, but a new cable modem had arrived from TWC while I was away. Of course, it had some obscure firewall requirement that I hadn't realized, and I had to spend half an hour mucking with settings before it finally let people connect to MapTools.

We Return to our Regular Programming

Since the response to my introduction of politics last session was muted and displeased, this session was primarily a big combat set piece: the giants are on the other side of a really big river and they've captured a bridge. The mech pilots decided to recapture the bridge, as a preliminary step to making some deep penetration raids against the enemy.

We started by resolving some lingering issues from last session: interrogation of the captured giants, execution of same for war crimes, and picking up some loot. The interrogation didn't reveal much, but now the pilots know there are multiple tribes of giants and that one of the chiefs is building a fortress to the south.

The execution was a bit of a puzzler. A couple of the PCs have Soldier's Code of Honor, which requires following the laws of war, and executing PoWs is usually a war crime. We reread it quickly, and the disadvantages specifies that the laws of war only apply to honorable enemies: dishonorable enemies get the bullet. Given that the giants were attacking a refugee column with clear intent to eat the civilians, we all agreed that the giants weren't honorable and they were decapitated. I could have gone either way, and was willing to handwave the creation of some really big manacles, but it was nice to have a clearly defined solution in the game rules. Even if it was a little blood thirsty.

The guys with Throwing Art wanted to pick up some mecha/giant sized swords and axes to throw at people, because uprooting trees apparently takes too much time. Fair enough. In practice, the giants don't know what autocannon are and thus don't know to try to dodge out of the line of fire (and none of the giants have survived to tell anyone), but thrown axes are something they can understand and defend against.

The Big Bridge

The map for the bridge was huge: over 200 hexes, at 5 yards to a hex, makes it over a half mile wide. The river itself was some 60 hexes across. As soon as I made it available, I got asked, "hey, what happens if our mecha fall in the water?" Since I'd already established the mecha as being electrically powered from a back mounted generator, it seemed reasonable that they could operate without the generator for brief periods and were fully submersible. There was a briefly discussed plan to wade the river and attack, but since most of the giants were on the near side of the river anyway, it was skipped.

We ran through the first 10 or so turns of the fight. There were 4-5 groups of giants, spread out on the fortifications on the near side of the bridge and on the bridge itself. One group of 8 was closely clustered (within 20 yards of a central giant), and the pilots opened up the fight with a cluster shell from the artillery mech's 160mm mortar. That didn't actually kill any of the giants, but it knocked about half of them down and hurt them.

After that, I fast forwarded through the next couple of seconds, since everyone intended to mostly engage at melee ranges. The giants realized they were under attack and moved toward the mechs, and the mechs moved toward the giants. Two of the pilots split off to engage the wounded giants who were closest, and the others continued on the main road toward the bridge. The original plan had been something different, but it got adapted on the fly.

The usual shenigans ensued: the weapon master dueled a couple of giants, including a large giant that was pretty difficult to take down but eventually lost a leg and got killed. The ace pilot had picked up a two handed axe and was swinging it wildly, and got in some lucky shots (and took some damage from a surprisingly lucky hit). The artillery mech used his weight and speed to just body slam a small giant, reducing him to a red smear.

My favorite moment came at the end of the session: the gunslinger had been leading the way toward the bridge, and a half dozen giants had closed in on him, surrounding him and cutting off his forward movement. He calmly drew his gun and fired at three of them, killing all of them - and since his shots were to the vitals, one of the giants even went down to -5xHP in a single hit! I don't think I've ever really seen that happen against a significant foe in all my years of playing GURPS. It was a very cool moment - and it was only later that I realized that since he was using non-explosive AP shells, it's very likely that the shot went through that giant and on to kill or wound someone else. It'll make a nice point to start the next session.

Really, everything gelled together in this session to approach most of what I wanted from the vehicle combat in this game. Everyone had a better idea of what the mecha could and couldn't do, and how much the restrictions on ammo usage mattered. The lesser giants were safely dispatched with melee, and the modern cannon were used to thin out clusters of giants. I was very pleased.

What's Next

More of the same for the next session, as they continue fighting their way across the bridge and tangle with a 30' giant (who is currently menacing them with a enormous repeating crossbow).

After that, Mecha Against the Giants will probably go on a hiatus as we return to the main, dungeon fantasy game. I'll keep plotting and planning, though. I do want to get the pilots out of their vehicles (though not to fight giants!): some TL9 versus TL2 dungeon-crawling is something that I want to see in action. I don't know when I'll get to that, but I'll prepared for when it happens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mecha Assault on the Giants: Session 2

I ran the second session of Mecha Against the Giants last week. I hadn't planned to, but our regular GM has been buried at work and decided that since I had something prepared, she'd let me take over. One of the other players had to drop, so she took over his character.

Finishing the Fight

We had the inevitable technical problems: I was running the game while staying at a hotel, and couldn't tunnel MapTools through the hotel's firewall. One of the players hosted, but it took a bit to get everyone connected properly. It wasn't a big deal, but it did eat up some time.

We then played through the rest of the fight. With their leaders down and the giants already scattered, there wasn't much of a struggle. People were getting comfortable with the idea that the challenge level was set on low, and that it was safe to experiment with off-beat moves: punching people with the stocks of their guns, drop kicking giants in the face at 40 mph, spraying fire from the anti-personnel guns to take down the weakest giants. It was a lot of fun.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I have a bunch of thoughts about this campaign, but one thing that's been coming clear is that I don't want it to be a conventional DF game. In some ways, that's obvious from the premise, but that's not really what I mean. DF games are usually challenging exercises in resource management (magical items, money, HP, FP, encumbrance, etc), with a lot of fights balanced on a razor's edge, but they're also supposed to be nearly devoid of talky bits and have Town as a safe place.

This game is not like that. Challenge in combat is fairly low, since the mecha are faster, better armed and armored, and longer ranged than the giants: even without guns, the pilots can easily disengage from from a losing fight. Instead, the goal is for everyone to have fun being awesome. Similarly, the only resource to be managed is the remaining rounds of advanced ammunition, and there's plenty of that to allow for use in emergency situations, if not all the time.

Another thing that I want to at least have the option of introducing is a strategic and political game. Town is not safe, in that the giants can follow the pilots back there and there are factions in town that might attack the pilots while they're away from their vehicles. There's also a political game, with factions among Those Poor People trying to win support for their own goals by influencing the pilots.

Finally, there's a lot of storytelling techniques like flashbacks that I haven't been able to use in my various DF games. So I want to play around with some of those.

So after the fight ended, I switched to a flashback of the planning session a few days before, when the pilots were trying to figure out what was going on. This gave everyone a chance for some role-playing, though several of the PCs are "socially awkward monomaniacally focused pilots" so that didn't work as well as I'd hoped.

The social scene was fun, for me, and not tedious for most of the players, I think. The introduction of politics and factions wasn't particularly well received, and I'm still thinking about how I want to handle it in the future. My preference would be for it to be background events that the players can interact with if they want to, but even if there are serious changes in local politics, it's nothing that affects them if they don't want it to. Nothing that happens in the background: revolution, rebellion, assassination, social unrest, or whatever, will interfere with their attempts to fight the giants. Which to me just means they'll always have fuel for their mecha and food and housing for themselves. I'm not guaranteeing that their efforts to make guncotton and fresh 25mm rounds will be unaffected, because those efforts (in my mind) are part of the political game.

I'm not sure if I'm a good enough GM to balance between "big things in the background are happening" and "those big things don't really effect you." I'm looking forward to the challenge, though.

And Now What?

I'm scheduled to run games for the next few weeks, and I have a plan. The PCs have already expressed some short term goals like improve their fuel supply and cross the river into giant territory. I can easily generate some set-pieces from that, and I have more planned.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Henchmen and Hirelings: My Experiences

+Douglas Cole at Gaming Ballistic and +Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic are writing about the use of henchmen and hirelings in role-playing games, so I thought I would follow them as I often do.

I've had various experiences with henchmen, depending on the game and the group.

Online Dungeon Fantasy: Saga of the Westmarch

In my first Westmarch game, I was running the game online for varied and changing group of players. I encouraged some use of henchmen, but only in a limited way (this was long before most of the DF line was written, so we had to come up with our own house rules instead of reading PDFs).

My view was that henchmen and hirelings were road companions, guards, navigators, or porters, but that they were NOT going into the dungeon itself. I did this to reduce my logistical load (less people in the dungeon made the game go faster) and to keep the focus on the PCs. Hirelings might fight during random encounters on the way to the dungeon, but they were not involved in the most important part of the story.

The trade-off was an explicit promise that a group with camp guards could guarantee that their tents, spare food, horses, and whatever could safely be left behind while the delvers were in the dungeon. This meant that the delvers could raid the dungeon over a couple of days, carrying out choice bits of loot and leaving it with the guards.

Since the henchmen didn't go into the dungeons, there really weren't many opportunities to treat them well or poorly. There was a primitive loyalty system (more expensive Guild warriors were less likely to steal stuff than cheap street thugs) but it didn't really come up because everyone splurged for reliable guards.

Dark Fantasy: the Dreadknights

I played in a F2F game in which the PCs were explicitly evil overlords seeking to reconquer the land from the forces of goodness and light. Henchmen, hirelings, and armies were an important part of the game, but there was no real requirement that we treated them well, and plenty of reasons why we wouldn't. Attitudes toward the hirelings were mixed.

One PC was a mad Dr. Frankenstein type, and treated our hirelings awfully. Rebellions were brutally put down with excessive bloodshed, and then the corpses were re-animated into shambling monstrosities. Repeatedly, if necessary. His attitude was that hirelings were disposable and recyclable, and they needed to fear and obey the Dreadknights if they didn't want to be disposed of and recycled.

Another player just didn't want to deal with the hassle of henchmen. He didn't want to track them or think about them or deal with them. So he just excused himself from that part of the game, which I think was a valid option.

My character was the general of the Dreadknights, and my concept was that he was tough but fair. I treated my hirelings well as long as they served me, didn't expose them to unnecessary risk, and rewarded them for success. I also had a bunch of orcs that were routed in battle brutally executed, because that was not the type of behavior I wanted to encourage.

It was a strange game, but a lot of fun.

Superheroes: the Rise and Fall of HYDRA

One of the early events in the Fall of HYDRA game was the PCs rescuing a bunch of potential Captain Americas from HYDRA. Compared to the PCs, they're all fairly low powered, but there's something like sixty of them. They're not regular henchmen, but more of a highly motivated, volunteer militia that the PCs can call upon when they need additional manpower.

The players have been respectful of this resource, which is unsurprising since this is supposed to be a positive, hopeful superhero game. They don't send them on suicide missions or anything like that.

The relevance to this article is that it created a pool of super-powered folk that we can use for new players. I think that's one of the best use of henchmen: potential heroes or replacements that are already somewhat connected to the backstory, but haven't needed to step up until now.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mecha Assault on the Giants: Session 1

I ran the first session of Mecha Against the Giants last night. It went about as well as I expected, with a couple of minor issues but generally positive.

Technical Problems

The biggest problem with online gaming are the technical issues. For once, MapTools connectivity issues didn't dominate the evening. Instead, one of the players had difficulty with Skype. He managed to troubleshoot it himself, and we got started only 30 minutes late. With only a four hour time slot, that's a little annoying, but it wasn't too bad.

Of course, at the end of the evening, the connectivity problems returned with a vengeance, taking two players out of the game entirely. We'd been making pretty good progress up to that point, getting through about seven or eight turns of whirling combat, when they dropped out three hours into the game. They never managed to get their connections stable after that, and since we were at the top of a round, I decided to call it at that point.


Creating a good map for an online game isn't tricky, but I have a tendency to make them too big. The main guns of the mecha have ranges around 2000 yards, so I want to give them plenty of space to be used. On the other hand, the mecha only move at 30-60 yards/second, so even covering 300 yards in a combat is unlikely. And since the giants are primarily melee types, if I make the engagement range too large, either the PCs pick off the enemy effortless at range (boring) or we spend hours and hours just moving (even more boring).

I ended up with a map that covered roughly 1000 yards by 1000 yards and using a much narrower band within it, which was fine. The PCs started the engagement about 500 yards away from the giants, but we fast forwarded through five seconds of movement on both sides and started at a more reasonable 150-250 yards.

In addition to creating large maps, I used to create very pretty maps with excellent use of textures and objects. I've stopped doing that, and now my maps are very plain and functional: shades of olive/tan to indicate rising hills, blue for water, darkening shades of gray for depressions, and a green textured pattern for trees. Originally, I did a simple green for trees, but one of the players is slightly colorblind and he couldn't tell the difference between forest and hills.
A simple map?
I ended up setting the map scale to 5 yards/hex, which is something MapTools supports. There was a little trouble at first, but everyone eventually understood that they didn't have to count hexes and multiple: the tool would just tell them the range in yards.

The Good

The overall concept was pretty workable. I set the PCs against about twenty giants, mostly weak and typical types, armed with a variety of weapons. The PCs proceeded to chop, punch, and shoot them to bits. There wasn't a lot of danger, but one of the PCs ended up driving through the main force of giants and took a blow to the back that penetrated armor, knocked him off the road, and caused him to briefly lose control of his vehicle. Good times.

There were some teething problems, and some tactical mistakes (such as driving through a mass of giants at top speed while trying to aim at their far away leader), but everyone was in pretty good spirits about it.

There were a couple of especially funny bits:
  • At the very start, after I explained the premise of the game, Jeremy asked if the giants talked. Thinking that he might want to negotiate with them a bit, I allowed that the giants were intelligible. Jeremy then proposed going straight to the giants and offering the PCs' services in exchange for the giants sending them home. We weren't even 10 minutes into the game and he was trying to subvert the entire campaign concept! I was impressed.
  • +Douglas Cole was ordered to the shoot the giants' leader, 200+ yards on a hill. He drove toward the guy (and incidentally, most of the lesser giants) while aiming. The lesser giants started attacking him, so he'd defend himself and lose his aim, or get hit and lose his aim, or have too much cover between himself and the target and have to hold his fire. He kept re-aiming and speeding along, getting most of the team's Tactics rerolls as +Nathan Joy tried to keep Doug alive. Finally, Doug ended up 5 yards away from the lead giant and just shot him in the face. Nate's final comment was, "And I've learned that Doug requires especially close supervision."
  • Nate is a former marine, and made his character into an unusually lucky officer based on Nate's experiences with types. As such, he's the worst shot and pilot in the group. Nevertheless, he accounted for about a third of the group's kills, by spraying fire into masses of giants and getting lucky hits with missed shots.
Comment from Nate: "Barely competent officers who assume they can get through life on luck and charm are a hilarious thing when you're not really having to rely on their actions not actually ending up with you dead.

"Note to self: take Incompetence(Navigation)

"Mandatory joke: What's the difference between a PFC and a 2nd LT? The PFC has been promoted once."
  • At +Kevin Smyth's request, we were using the shield damage rules. Jeremy punched a giant, who blocked with a shield. Jeremy's damage was sufficient to destroy the shield, break the giant's arm, and knock him to the ground. The next round, another larger giant shield rushed Doug at better than 80 mph. Doug's armor absorbed the damage (though he did have to make a control roll) while the giant's shield and arm were once again broken, leaving the giant collapsed on the field of battle. Ritters: 2; Rugby playing giants: 0.
The pilots blaze a trail of destruction through the giants

The Inevitable Argument

I've been approaching the design of this game in a light-hearted gamist mode: since mecha make no sense as war machines (and giant humans make no sense biologically), there's no point in trying to justify stuff against realism and I should make design decisions based on achieving the level of challenge I want. And the challenge I want is for the PCs to mostly be easily triumphant and victorious, but to be forced to fight the giants in melee range where the giants can potentially harm them. Even then, they should have their guns as trumps, so if the giants start to overwhelm them, they can start firing, the giants all fall down, and a sticky situation is averted. As such, the ammunition for their guns is very limited, unrealistically so.

The players, on the other hand, want to be able to shoot every giant in the face and have realistic rates of fire for their weapons and realistic ammo loads. Specifically, they think the autocannons (that fire either at RoF 5! or RoF 10!, that is to say, either 5 rounds or 10 rounds at a time) should be able to dial a burst at any rate between 1 and 10 rounds. They might also think that they should have more than 250 rounds per gun, but we didn't get into it last night.

My logic is that if the autocannons can fire at RoF 1, then their 50 effective bursts become 250 available shots, and that's too many shots. So I'll be forced to say they used up more of their ammo before the game began, and have even less available now, such that they only have around 30 available shots again.

This argument was not greeted with shouts of overwhelming joy, but I'm sticking to it. They can deal with the lesser giants using punches, grapples, and melee weapons, and reserve the rockets, cannon, and mortar rounds for the big guys. Deciding when to break out the rare ammo is part of the challenge, and using it all up on the small fry is suboptimal.

My other point was that even with my stealing about a lot of their nomimal maximum ammo before the game even started, they still had still had over 500 rounds or 100 bursts of 20mm autocannon ammunition available, and that's a lot of dead giants. Not to mention the 25mm heavy rifle ammo. Sure, there are hundreds and hundreds of giants, but they do have enough ammo available if they're careful.

Next Steps

There were a lot of quick rules made last night, and I need to document them. Things like moving and attack in a mech, penalties for control rolls based on speed, and the like were quickly decided in play but they need to be written down.

Going over my notes, I also think I missed a couple of things: Doug blew the starting ammo check, and was supposed to have 30% of his full ammo load, but I think that got mistranslated into 20 rounds. That's a significant difference that I didn't catch in the confusion.

I'm also hoping that the PCs will step up and describe the culture that shanghaied them into fighting the giants. I've been referencing them as "Those Poor People" and have my own ideas about what they're like, but this is something I'd prefer that the players define.

There's no huge hurry, though, since this game is supposed to be an alternate emergency game from our regular online game. I'm looking to get back to that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Weapon Talents: Why I Like Them

By the book, Talents in GURPS are not supposed to be weapon talents. The argument is that "[broad based weapon talents] would usurp DX" (Power Ups 3 p23). My problem is that I'm not sure why talents usurping DX is a bad thing.

GURPS tends to favor broadly focused generalists with absurd levels of DX and IQ, and it also favors hyper focused specialists with even more absurd levels of a single combat skill. A character with broad skill in multiple weapons is almost always more expensive and less effective than a character with higher skill in a single weapon, and yet the first character can easily step into the niches of other DX focused characters. Weapon talents that usurp DX are a helpful way to build a type of character that won't invade other people's niches as much.

With that said, I offer two new talents:

Bulls-Eye Brotherhood 10 pts/level
Artillery, Beam Weapons, Blowpipe, Bolas, Bow, Crossbow, Gunner, Guns, Innate Attack, Liquid Projector, Sling, Throwing, Thrown Weapon.

Master of Arms 10 pts/level
Boxing, Brawling, Cloak, Garrotte, Judo, Karate, Lance, Melee Weapon, Wrestling.

I've used Master of Arms in my DF games for a while, and it never felt especially broken. It did make Knights that use multiple weapons a little more viable, but using the Knight! wildcard skill was a better better.

I introduced Bulls-Eye Brotherhood for the Mecha Assault the Giants game. So far, it hasn't actually gotten all that much pick-up, because the pilots don't just need Guns and Gunnery skill, they also need melee combat skills, stealth, and driving. Thus, straight DX is more appealing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mecha Against the Giants

So my online Wednesday night gaming group has run into scheduling problems, and we're looking at alternate games we can run when the usual GM isn't available but everyone else. Not particularly seriously, I threw out the following pitch:

Mecha Against the Giants
In a mostly low fantasy world, actual giants are invading. The Court  Wizard performs his  mightiest ritual and summons a squad of Heavy Gear/VOTOMS type mecha pilots and their vehicles. Dragooned against  their will, they must use their powerful vehicles and limited ammunition to defeat the giants and  find a way home.
Response was moderately positive, so now I need to figure out some stuff about how this would work in GURPS and I'm using my blog as a scratch space.

Also, I'm going to start calling the mecha Large Armored Knights, but claim they were invented by a pseudo-Germany so they'd be Grosse Panzer Ritteren and abbreviated GrPzRts or Ritters.

Modern Guns, Metal Armor, and Improbably Tall Men

Harking back to Heavy Gear, GrPzRts are roughly equivalent to modern Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and likely armed with a 20mm automatic cannon or a 25mm rifled cannon (plus rockets/missiles, anti-infantry machine guns and grenade launchers, and a small anti-missile system). But their primary weapons do between 6dx3 and 6dx4 damage, or maybe up to 6dx6 (2) with exotic loads like APFSDS. So their front armor needs to be in the DR80 to DR100 range, enough to bounce SAPHE projectiles but still vulnerable to AP and exotic AP.

It's pretty safe to assume that the giants are not going to be strong enough to penetrate the Ritters' front armor nor tough enough to handle being shot by the main guns. Which is fine: that means that I can throw large numbers of giants at the PCs without worrying too much, and the PCs have a trump card as long as they don't run out of ammo.

Still, the giants need some way of harming the ritters. Assuming a weight in the 3-6 ton range, the ritters would have ST 70 to ST 85 or so. Giants that can wrestle a ritter would need about the same strength, which puts them maybe 3 to 4 times as tall as a person. A ST 70 giant with Brawling does 8d+7 damage with a punch, and could reliably crack DR 40 rear armor if he can hit a weak spot. The largest giants, 30' monstrosities with ST 160, swing their clubs and blades for better than 6dx3 damage and can crack a ritter's side armor with some luck.

Giants Versus Giants

Giants need some inherent DR, preferably a lot of it, to avoid getting chewed to death by anti-infantry light machine guns. In GURPS, a strong, trained brawler does 1/4th his own HP on a typical punch. An ST 70 giant punching himself does 8d+7 damage, average 35 points per hit, and would need DR17 or so to reduce that to 1/4 his HP.  A larger 24' tall giant with ST 115 punches for 16d, averages 56 damage, and needs DR 30 or so. The largest 30' giants have DR 40. The idea of TL2 normal humans, almost entirely without magic or special abilities, needing to summon TL9 armored fighting vehicles to deal with these giants makes a lot more sense!

Typical Ritters and Giants

Scout Ritter701/4 115/24, 5/40*4+2175 30020mm AC, 8 70mm rockets
Infantry Ritter800/5124/22, 4/33*4.5+219030025mm Rifle, 16 70mm rockets or 3 125mm missiles
Artillery Ritter85-1/5103/19, 3/28*6+2110030020mm AC and 40 70mm rockets, or 25mm AC and 8 70mm rockets,
120mm Mortar
Ritters have two movement modes: a slow walking mode that handles terrain well, and a faster skating mode (using wheels built into their feet) that bogs down terribly on anything other than metaled roads.
All ritters have DR40 rear armor. They carry 250 rounds for ACs and 90 rounds for rifles. Artillery ritters carry 12 rounds for their 120mm Mortar. They also have a 7.62mm LMG with 1000 rounds or a 60mm anti-personnel mortar with 18 rounds, a 6 shot smoke launcher, and a 10mm anti-missile system with 2000 rounds.
Each ritter has a pilot's survival kit that includes reflex armor BDUs (DR 12/4* with DR 18/7* torso), a combat helmet with visor and gas mask (DR 18 for the head), a carbine with 3 magazines, a pistol with 3 magazines, a survival knife, a bivy tent, a filter canteen, a small first aid kit, a smart blanket, 2 days of compressed rations, and sundry items depending on the expected terrain.

Weak Giant
15' tall, SM +2, ST 55, Move 21, DR 10, Punch 6d+5 (7d+1), Club/Blade swing 8d+9 (10d+2), Two-handed club/blade swing 8d+24 (15d).

Typical Giant
18' tall, SM +2, ST 75, Move 20, DR 15, Punch 8d+7 (10d), Club/Blade swing 10d+10 (13d), Two-handed club/blade swing 10d+30 (18d+2).

Strong Giant
24' tall, SM+3, ST 115, Move 16, DR 25, Punch 12d+13 (16d), Club/Blade swing 14d+16 (18d+2), Two-handed club/blade swing 14d+44 (26d+2).

Massive Giant
30' tall, SM+4, ST 160, Move 15, DR 35, Punch 17d+16 (21d+2), Club/Blade swing 19d+19 (18d+2), Two-handed club/blade swing 19d+57 (35d).

Many giants wear jousting scale armor layered over thin cloth armor, giving them an additional DR +12. Especially rich giants wear massive plate over thin mail (or supermassive plate over light mail for massive giants), giving them DR +18 or DR +23.

(There might be something wrong with the inherent DR values when wearing the best possible armor gives less DR than your skin. Maybe giants should wear giant skin armor...)

Bullets Per Giant, Giants Per Ritter

It takes 4 rounds from a 7.62mm LMG to bring a weak giant to 0 HP and 10 from the same to bring down a typical giant. A single round of 20mm or better will drop a weak or typical giant; massive giants need multiple rounds of 20mm and 25mm or a single shot to the vitals.

A strong giant with a greatclub can slowly crack an infantry ritter's armor (26 hits to HP 0!), while a massive giant with the same can smash any ritter in 3-5 hits. Weak and typical giants aren't directly a threat, but can be a problem if they behind a ritter or if several of them combine to grapple a ritter and pull it to the ground.

PC Templates

This game concept is mostly about improbably tall men fighting giant robots, but sometimes the giant robot pilots are going to need to get out on foot and do stuff. It's certainly likely that the local aristocracy will realize the pilots are both the aristocracy's necessary saviors and biggest threats, and that someone will eventually conclude that while the ritters are necessary to fight the giants, the ritter pilots could be replaced by someone else (this is possibly not true, when has that stopped people from doing stupid and futile actions?)

As such, I'm going to use the Action templates. Wheel Man is an obvious choice for an ace pilot, but Assassin (for a keen shooter), Face Man (for an iffy pilot with a lot of charm), Investigator (for a clever leader), Scout (for a sneaky pilot of a scout ritter), and Shooter (for a heavy gunner) are also possibilities. A Fast Guy or Weapon Master (from Furious Fists) wouldn't be out of place as a mechanical brawler who will come in handy when ammo is low and beating up giants with clubs made out of tree trunks seems like a good plan.

Notes on Online Play

I'm going run this using MapTools, because that's what I do with online games. I don't think I'm going to change the standard GURPS time scale, but I may up the ground scale to 1 hex = 5 yards. I'll have to experiment, I think.

If MapTools could handle multihex critters properly, I probably wouldn't bother. Maybe. There's trade-offs both ways: a small hex scale means more hexes to cope with but it also means not having to muck with multiplying and dividing ranges. Hmmm.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bones: Griffins and Bugs

I got some spiders and beetles as part of the Bones kickstarter. I have some pre-painted D&D spiders, but more is always better, and the beetles are great.

These were pretty easy to paint: thin walnut brown stain as a base, and a drybrush of either dark red (for the beetles) or dark grey (for the spiders). I then went back with a very light blue paint and painted the negative space in side the beetle's legs to give them a little more definition. A little clean-up and they were done!

They're a little hard to see in these pictures, because the focus is the griffins, but you can see them at the bottom.
I always wanted some miniatures griffins for my gaming table. I can't imagine why; I can't think of an actual encounter that involved any that I've ever played in. I think a friend of mine had a lead griffin in high school, which must have been enormously expensive and heavy for something I don't he ever primed, much less painted.

When Bones was kickstarted, orders came with a single griffon and additional griffins were $7 as an extra. I decided to get three of them, because if I ever play a tabletop fantasy game again and use griffins, I'll probably want multiple ones in a the scene.
I think these are largest miniatures I've ever painted, as large as my largest dragons. They were also hard to basecoat, since the paint didn't want to flow in the crooks of the feathers on the wings and the ridged feathers on the back and chest were hard on my brushes.
The paint schemes were simple: dark ivory wings (or at least trailing feathers) and brown bodies. I used chestnut for two of them, and walnut for the third, to make them distinct on the table. Then I drybrushed with a brighter white and a lighter brown to bring out the details. Two tones of yellow for the beak and talons, light tan and yellow drybrush for the arms, and I was done.
This griffin was based on the golden eagle. He had the same brown base as the other brown griffin, but then I hightlighted the chest and head feathers with the same yellow I used on the talons and beak.

I really like how this one came out.
I painted the socks on the back feet in several stages: ivory basecoat, a sharp line with the brown basecoat, and then drybrushed white highlight from the bottom and drybrushed brown highlight from the upper leg heading down. It looks best on this dark brown griffin, since it blended very well and gave a very natural effect.
The eyes are a simple light tan and a line of black with a technical pen. Simple, but surprisingly good.
I'm glad I did these, and even happier that I'm finished with them!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Revising Critical Hits and Misses in GURPS

Doug's work on critical hits and optimum skill levels caused me to think some more on a complaint I have with GURPS: I don't like the current system for critical hits and misses in combat.

The current mechanism is simple, but somewhat unsatisfying: a natural 3 or 4 on an attack roll is a critical hit, and the opponent gets no defense roll. A natural 17 or 18 on an attack roll is a critical miss, and something bad happens to the attacker. An attacker with an effective skill of 15 or better also gets a critical hit on a natural 5. An attacker with an effective skill of 16 also gets a critical hit on a 6 and doesn't critically miss on a 17, though she still misses on a 17.

There's about a 5% of rolling a 5 or less on 3 dice, and about a 10% chance of rolling a 6 or less. So going from effective skill 15 to 16 only slightly increases the chance of hitting, but it doubles the number of critical hits. Against an opponent with significant defenses, that can increase the chance of getting through the defenses by 5%-10% on its own. And attacking at skill 16 also reduces the chance of critical failing from 2% to 0.5%, which is either not much of a difference or a fairly huge difference. A rare event goes from happening one time in fifty to one time in two hundred.

The reason that all this is unsatisfactory is that it makes optimizing fairly simple: attack with skill 16. Going below 16 can slightly increase the chance of getting an attack through defenses, at the cost of giving up potential critical hits (and their beneficial effects such as extra damage or bonus armor penetration) and risking more critical misses. There are circumstances where going to skill 14 increases the chance of getting a hit through defenses slightly (going from 37% to 42% or so in the most favorable case) but most people feel the extra risk of critical misses isn't worth the slight gain in some circumstances.

I wish the optimization wasn't so simple, and there were more situations where having an effective skill ranging between 14 and 18 were valid but different. Different players could make different choices, depending on their preferences and the tactical situation, without feeling that they were making an inferior choice.

Proposed House Rule

My rule is a simple modification of the existing critical hit rules. An attacker with an effective skill of 15 or better also gets a critical hit on a natural 5. An attacker with an effective skill of 18 or better would also get a critical hit on a natural 6. An attacker with an effective skill of 14 or better wouldn't critically miss on a 17.

It's just a simple tweak to the current rules, but I think it opens up some space in play. A moderately skilled attacker can drop her effective skill to 14 to rack up penalties on the defense without increasing her risk of critical misses. Or if she wants to maximize her chances of critical hits, she can raise her effective skill to 18 and go crit fishing. Depending on the situation, she may even want to hold at 16, maximizing her chance of a hit without getting critical: useful when she wants to draw out a defense to set up another character or has an attack that penalizes the defender for successfully defending (such as a lightsaber or some other annihilating weapon).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bones: Apes! Basecoat and drybrush

Actually, only the largest of these guys is actually from the Reaper Bones collection. The other two are actual pewter figures from Paizo, I think.

I don't have any particular reason for posting these guys. Or for painting them, really, but I figured I should just work through the backlog and these guys were the ones I grabbed. Along with 3 griffins, 4 snakewomen, an eryine or harpy, a succubus, a bunch of beetles and spiders, and a couple of ninja. Not all of them are getting the same amount of attention, but I'm making some progress on most of them. The ninja may get done in a second batch.

Anyway, I basecoasted these guys with a dark brown walnut, and then quickly drybrushed them with a dark gray. I took the pictures to see how well the highlight came out, and I think it's okay. I still need to go over the biggest gorilla with a lighter gray to make him a proper silverback, since the difference in fur color is pretty noticeable in my reference images.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sentinel Tactics: Actual Play 1

So having punched out tokens, painted and repainted miniatures, and constructed some 3-D terrain, I finally had a chance to make it up to Emerald Tavern and play Sentinel Tactics.

Omni-Tron sends out drones to menace Ra while Absolute Zero
puts up an ice wall to block the robot mastermind's line of sight.
 My friends and I started with a couple of simple skirmishes: Omni-tron (with drone deployment) versus Absolute Zero, Legacy, and Ra, played to 3 incapacitations. This was not a balanced skirmish, since Omnitron could just spam drones faster than the heroes could stop him, and once Omitron's player realized she could just gang up on Ra, things went to pot pretty quickly. There was something of a rally on the heroes' side when Ra used his Living Pyre power (which creates hazards spaces adjacent to Ra, which meant that the melee drones tended to get scorched before they could attack) and AZ and Legacy focused fire on Omnitron, but it was too little too late. It didn't help that Ra's player rolled very poorly on his defense dice.

Omnitron's player contemplates deploying yet another drone.
Another player joined after the first game, and we played two proper 3 on 3 skirmishes: me with Legacy, AZ, and Proletariat against the Operative, Omnitron, and Ra. For the second skirmish, I switched out Legacy and AZ for Beacon and Unity. In both cases, I just got stomped. There has to be a way to use Proletariat such that he can concentrate to attack without getting curb-stomped by AoE attacks, but I couldn't figure it out. Ra would Inferno the clones or Omnitron would use Ocular Beams or the Operative used her Kusarigami/Hidden Blade combo to pull Proletariat adjacent and stab him a bunch.

Emerald Tavern is a game store and a pub, so I
can drink mead while my villains take over a
For the last game, we played a scenario from Uprising: the Operative and the Organization's underbosses try to take over the city while being defended by Beacon, Ra, and Unity. This was something of a steamroller for the villain side (played by me): I brought most of the underbosses up to improve their lines of sight, spawned thugs with just about every action, and used the Operative to punish any hero who got close. The heroes, in contrast, never quite managed to get Ra in a position to blow stuff off and spent too much time trying to set up an Arcing Strike attack with Unity. My feeling is that Unity should get Champion Bot out to buff Beacon and Ra while Beacon uses Bolstering Attack to get another use of Ra's Inferno to take out clusters of thugs and Underbosses. The heroes never really focused fire on the Underbosses, and a late game Drawn to the Flame wasn't enough.

Ra puts a Blazing Tornado underneath the
Contract to encourage her to go someplace
Overall, it was a fun game and set of plays. There's enough complexity to the game to make it engaging, but it's very quick and straightforward enough to learn (compared to some of the stuff we've tried like Game of Thrones or Mage Knight...) As beginners, we played 4 games in about 5 hours, so it's not quite as quick to play as the rules suggest but it's perfectly reasonable to play a couple of different scenarios in an afternoon or evening.

Aside: The 3D terrain was really helpful, and simplified explaining line of sight and figuring it out in play. Having all the raised terrain being physically raised was great. I'm hoping if there's ever an Enhanced Edition for Sentinels Tactics that GtG will include some pre-cut cardboard terrain.

The Underbosses and thugs are various miniatures I already had, but they look nicer than having tokens. We sticky-tacked the underboss minis to their tokens for quick identification.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Paint and repaint: Sentinels Tactics miniatures are finished!

The Citizens of the Sun!

I spent the better part of a week painting these guys, putting in several hours every day. I usually enjoy painting miniatures, even with the inevitable frustrations, but these guys were driving me crazy towards the end. Paint 8 sets of pants black. Go back and paint 8 sets of boots, gloves, armbands, and legbands red. Go back and clean up the bits where the red leaked onto the black. Go back and paint the bits where the black leaked on the red. Then paint other parts of the miniatures, and notice spots that were missed, and do it all again. It was crazy.

On to the individual figures! As a note, I haven't permanently based any of these figures, and I had them all on temporary individual stands while I was working on them (as you can see above). So the paint jobs are somewhat better than they would be if I had to get around even more complicated bits.

Citizens Tears, Blood, and Sweat. For some reason, all of the female citizens are supposed to be in their own individually colored dresses, and all the male citizens are in a uniform of black pants, beige/gray shirts, and red accents. The original artwork for Citizen Blood has him in what is clearly a dark red velvet tuxedo, which looks appropriately goth, and I decided to keep that theme. Tears and Sweat got normal dresses.

Blood is supposed to have a monocle in his right eye, and Sweat is supposed to have pinkish eyes. I painted them that way, but I don't know if the detail shows up in the pictures.

Citizens Summer, Spring, Autumn, and Winter. These were pretty straightforward to paint, and simpler than the guys below. Winter is described in her background as not having pupils, just solid milky white eyes, so the lack of detail there isn't a mistake. Autumn is not solidly in contact with her base, and shouldn't be leaning so drunkenly - oops! But still, she looks fine, and there's some nice drybrush work on the dead tree behind her.

Citizens Dare and Truth are supposed to be in gray and black uniforms like everyone else, but their original card art has them in reversed red and orange outfits as fits their nature as diametrically opposed twins, so I went with that instead. These figures were a lot easier to paint for being in resin as opposed to lead - I could just fold the manifestations of their powers out of the way when I wanted to get an area that would otherwise be covered. I don't think that would be possible with lead or pewter, or at least, it would have been something I could only do safely once or twice instead of whenever was convenient. I should probably drybrush Truth's energy field with gold to make it glow a bit.

Citizens Assault and Battery, Hack and Slash, and Hammer and Anvil. Nothing really complicated here, but everything was a bit tedious. The beige overshirts are a medium grey, heavily drybrushed with a dark cream/khaki brown, and came out very well in these pictures (if a little less well up close). I painted the undershirts in a solid orange, instead of the complicated brown/orange checkered pattern shown in the card art. Slash's energy claws are medium purple drybrushed with hot pink, which was a not entirely successful experiment. Battery's sword is supposed to be glowing light blue, but I couldn't think of a way to make it work so I just left it as uncharged steel.

So that's all the Sentinel Tactics figures out so far. There's supposed to be an add-on pack out (in May 2015 or some such crazy thing) that adds Blade Battalion soldiers, the organization's Underbosses, the Omni-Reaper, and some dinosaurs. I can proxy most of those figures for now, but I'll probably pick it up when it comes out because hey, dinosaurs.

Tomorrow I'm meeting some friends at Emerald Tavern to actually play the game, so there should be some more pictures from that. And then I'll be done with talking about Sentinels Tactics on this blog for a while.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sentinels Tactics: Building up the Terrain

There's a project going on right at the Sentinels Tactics forums on creating 3-D terrain for the game. The approach is to print intricate designs on card stock that can then be cut up, folded, and glued and taped together. Some of the preview shots look pretty good:
Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to capitalize on this work, for three reasons:
  1. I am terrible at cutting up, folding, and gluing cardstock shapes in such a way that they don't immediately spring apart and have to get taped down.
  2. I know from previous experience that even if I could make decent cardstock buildings, after I toss them in a box and drive them to the game store on the other side of town a couple of times, they're going to be crumpled ruins.
  3. I'm worried that the very tall buildings will make it hard to see the miniatures on the table, especially for shorter people sitting on the far side of the table. This came up with some props I put together for a previous supers RPG game, where I discovered that 40mm high walls are way too tall to use with 28mm tall miniatures.
So I need an alternate way to get 3D buildings that will create much, much sturdier props, and preferably flatter ones that won't block visibility so much.

Fortunately, I have something like 15 square feet of black foam core lying around the house from a previous project. Small buildings of foam core are a bit of pain to cut out, but once glued together they're fairly resistant to damage and easy to repair.

The following shots are mostly a proof of concept, but I'm already liking the effect:

That's the Freedom Tower in 3D, with Beacon, Mr. Chomps, and Unity menacing the Operative.

Construction was pretty simple, though tedious and involved:
  1. Photocopy a hex tile 4 times in black and white. These are just going to be used as cutting guides, so they can be on cheap paper and in a low ink mode.
  2. Trim the photocopies to 7.5" squares, along one of the long axis of the hex tile.
  3. Lightly glue the photocopies in a line along a sheet of foam core.
  4. Cut the photocopy covered section of foam core away from the rest. There's now a piece that is 7.5" by 30", and it's not exactly convenient to use but it's better than a huge sheet of foam core.
  5. Take a bunch of the hex tiles from Sentinels Tactics and find all the elevated terrain on them. Take a pencil and match similar patterns of hexes on the photocopies. Try to maximize coverage and use all the hexes.
  6. Go over the final collections of hexagons with a sharpie or other thick pen.
  7. Cut out the patterns with an exacto knife. This is enormously tedious, and requires a knowledge of how to cut foam core, which can be found on the web. After cutting a pattern free, pull off the black and white photocopy sheet
  8. Photocopy the hex tiles in color this time. These copies are going on top of the final hex patterns, so they need to be of reasonable quality.
  9. Cut out the final color hexes and glue them to the patterns, gluing the patterns to each other as necessary.
One 30" by 7.5" section produced enough hex patterns to almost cover the entirety of the Megapolis side of the Tactics hex tiles. I'm hoping that another section will handle the rest and the Insula Primalis terrain, but I might have to do a total of three sections.

Edit: It took two sections, plus some miscellaneous scrap to build up the Insula Primalis volcano. Which is still not working out as well as I'd like.
Completed Megalopolis pictures!
And on the flip-side of the tiles, Insula Primalis (tile 7 is completely flat for Insula Primalis, so I didn't do anything with it). Visionary faces off against the Operative on the rim of the central volcano.

If I had a better workshop at home, I'd have considered doing these in a light wood (balsa?) and cutting them with a jig. I think I could have gotten the angles a little more precise with that kind of set-up.

Another possibility would be to use a 3-D printer, but that's not something I own (yet). This seems like the perfect project for one of the low cost DIY versions, but I worry about the cost of the materials. A liter of 3-D printer stock is expensive, while a huge amount of foam core is less than $10.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Paint Better: More Sentinel Tactics

So my last set of paint jobs was not my best work, I'll admit. So for this batch, I buckled down and actually used some technique: stains and washes, proper drybrushing, patience clean-up of mistakes, and select highlights and lowlights. That, and being more comfortable with the range of paints, made for much better looking figures.

Proletariat, the People's Hero! With 6 clones to paint at once and a mostly simple paint scheme, Prole was mostly an exercise in careful drybrushing to get a proper red torso. I was pretty intimidated by the yellow star, and initially tried to cheese it by painting the face yellow and then drybrushing red over it (hoping that the red wouldn't get into the trenches of the face and I'd get some really fine lines). That didn't work, so I buckled down with a fine brush and just painted the stars on the faces and then cleaned up the line with a dark red.

Citizen Dawn has a very straightforward paint job: red, red, red. Her face has minimal detail, so I painted on some highlights to accentuate the nose and cheekbones.

I don't like the Operative's new outfit, so I mostly painted her in her traditional colors of green and red (instead of green, blue, and yellow). There's still some of the new outfit in the figure, so I went with it. The wood of the tonfa is actually a very dark brown, but it's almost the same hue as the black gloves so you can't really make it out.

Visionary, Young Legacy, Beacon, and Ra. Visionary should have a green cape, but I didn't feel like messing with the green stuff to make it happen.

Young Legacy isn't technically a character in Sentinels Tactics: she's an alternate timeline version of Beacon. But I had an old lead figure that looked close enough, and I broke out the green stuff to make the miniskirt. It definitely could have gone better, but it looks good enough. I'm still not happy about not having a pure, solid white paint, but layers of khaki, cream, and pearl white wash came out well enough.

Beacon, in contrast, was simple to paint: orange, yellow, flesh tones, and some careful touch-up with cream and pearl. Most of the white is the miniature's original material.

Ra looks fairly good, with a solid drybrush for his skin tone, some decent looking flame in his left hand, and reasonably clean lines everywhere. He was a bit of a pain to paint, since there were a lot of nooks and crannies that I missed on the first (and second) passes with the paint. Too much detail touch-up!

So I'm feeling better about my painting, because I'm doing a better job.

Next up: the Citizens of the Sun, all fifteen of them. Almost all of them in shades of crimson red and/or black, but at least there's not much white to deal with. And that will be last of the existing Sentinel Tactics miniatures, so I'll go back to staring at my Reaper Bones and saying "man, I really should paint... uhm... hmmm." Hey, I heard the Borderlands prequel is coming out soon!