Saturday, January 29, 2011

GURPS: Suburban Office

FROM: Bob Cowan, Manager of Human Resources

TO: Accounting new hires

SUBJECT: Welcome!

Hi there!

I'd just like to extend a personal "welcome!" to all you new hires in the Accounts Receivable department. Midstate is the region's leading supplier of office supplies, and I'm glad to have some new teammates to carry the tradition into the future. Despite what you may have heard, Midstate is a company where you can set down roots.

You've already met the head comptroller, Gerald Luckenbill, and your immediate supervisor, Irving Weinbaum during the interviewing process. In addition to them, I expect you'll work closely with Myron Schabe, the Accounts Payable supervisor. None of that bickering which characterized the department in times past.

Thanks, and enjoy your stay at Midstate!


Bob Cowan
Manager, HR


By request, I'm setting up a short GURPS campaign based on the life and times of Herbert Kornfeld. Players will start the game as new hires at Midstate Office Supply. Play will revolve around accounting and the grand traditions of the Accounts Receivable brotherhood. As such, I'll be making a few modifications to the standard GURPS rules. These are by no means final, and I may add more as they occur to me.

The "Business Acumen" talent will be banned. Raise the points manually. The use of weapons is provisionally allowed, although don't go overboard. I suggest you look at the "New Skills" section.

New Advantages:

Ivy League: 10 points

You got your degree from one of our nations top colleges. This doesn't mean you know any more, but people will be act more favorably to you. You're automatically one pay grade higher than your fellow accountants with similar experience, and you'll get +1 on reaction rolls with people who know where you matriculated. (So be sure to mention it as soon as possible.) In addition, you may know people from your school in other accounting departments. See the Frequency of Appearance Table on B36

Additional Education: 5 points.

You may purchase another set of initials behind your name, which gives you an additional +1 to your reaction rolls and an additional pay grade per level. Don't let it go to your head.

New Disadvantages:

Temp -5 points

Your days are numbered, and what's worse, everybody knows it. Being a temp means you're subject to losing your job at a moment's notice. People will be wary of making long term plans around you, giving you -1 to your reaction rolls.

Compulsive Accounting: -5 points

You live for the ledger. Your life revolves around the office, and making those numbers dance. You'll volunteer for overtime, every time, and you'll resent days off. Holidays are a nightmare. You may find yourself breaking into the office just to keep adding those numbers on weekends. You get a positive reaction roll from people who rely on your accounting, but -1 from the public at large, who see you as something of a deviant. This condition would we worth more points if it wasn't so darn handy around the office.

New Skills:

Crooked Accounting: (IQ/VH)
Defaults: Accounting -6
This is the variant of accounting which lets you make the numbers fit your predetermined outcome, and to not let anyone know that you've done so. Note that failures can be embarassing...

Weapon: Letter Opener (DX/E)

The letter opener is the classic weapon of Accounting. Quick, deadly, capable of either stabbing or throwing, you're never half as safe as you are when you've got your letter opener by your side. Take the skill once for melee and again for thrown.

Weapon: Staple Gun (DX/E)

The use of common office staplers as projectile weapons. Although technically a ranged weapon, their half damage range is 2 hexes. This skill also covers the use of construction grade staple guns, which although they do significantly more damage are of a lower legality class.

Weapon: Three hole punch (DX/A)

The office weapon of choice if you're in favor of clubbing, this counts as an unbalanced weapon.

Exotic Weapon: Paypa-clip Chain (DX/H)

If you want to go for real style, you can swing around a whip of paperclips. This skill has the advantage of allowing you to assemble a new weapon whenever you get access to paper clips, but it is significantly harder to wield.

Weapon: Binder Clips (DX/A)

This is a thrown weapon. They do very little damage, but you can carry many of them without raising (much) suspicion.

Jeet-Kun Do (DX/H)

Technically, this is a variant of the Karate skill already listed in the book. Jeet-Kun Do is the favored martial art of the suburban office environment. It comes with a variety of techniques, most notably the Office Supply attack (hard) that lets you incorporate the use of one of the other office weapons into your Jeet-Kun Do attack. As a prerequisite, you also have to have skill in the weapon.

The specific details of the weapons tables entries for these items to follow.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Max Damage

Despite the somewhat ambiguous name, this is another GURPS character that we used in the last session. Again, it'll be carted around in my briefcase

ST: 12 HP: 12
DX: 12 Per: 10
IQ: 10 Will: 10
HT: 12 FP: 12

Basic move 6. Dodge 11

Combat Reflexes
High Pain Threshold

Impulsiveness (12 or less)
Tobacco habit
On the Edge

Believes all beautiful women are attracted to him
Catchphrase "Take it to the Max!"
Dislikes college educated nerds
Frequently smokes cigars
Never leaves enemy buildings without trying to blow them up.

Pistol 14
Rifle 12
Light machine gun 12
Machine gun turret 12
Minigun 14
Knife 12
Brawling 14
Explosives 11
Fast draw (pistol) 13
Interrogation 9
Intimidate 9
Motorcycle 11
Gambling 9

Now, I didn't have the Max Damage sheet done when the holiday session came around, so I handed it off to one of the experienced min maxers-

Ok, I'm writing this as another role playing session is going on in the background. We've been ordered to kill all the rebels, and found out that there are women and children behind them, who we've also apparently been ordered to kill. (I took a nasty sword wound, so I'm unconscious and out of the battle, so I've got time to blog.) I'm hearing them discuss what to do about the orders:

Nuba: Do we really have to kill them all?
Sprok: I could leave the children, kill the women.
Nuba: What? NO!
Kimball: What? NO! Sprok; we're near a coastal town. We can sell them into slavery.

If you could pay off moral bankruptcy on an installment plan we'd be making payments into the next century.

Back to where I interrupted myself: Ok, I had handed the character sheet over to one of the min maxers, who promptly fiddled some extra stuff on here. So if you're reading this, this is where berserk went. Didn't fit the character. And the skills have been shuffled around.

The discussion behind me has gone into auditing someone's parry skill. As far as we can tell it's five points higher than he thought it was. Fascinating stuff. Maybe I should keep blogging...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Some more considerations for spaceship design

Today we're doing more work on the properties of spaceships. If you'll recall, in October (good lord I need to update more often) I wrote that spaceships have the following properties:

How hard it hits
How many hits it can take
How accurately it fires
How fast it can move
How much it can carry

Again, all of these numbers depend on the other ones, so defining them will be difficult. Let's go over them.

How hard it hits

Your spaceship will be flinging around nuclear bombs. As I discussed earlier, there are other options, but none seem nearly as efficient. I'm perfectly willing to allow different kinds of weapons, but I'm not going to make some miracle sci fi death ray when A-bombs are available (No dessert until you finish your Uranium!)

So how much damage does a nuclear weapon do? Depends on how you build it. After a little bit of googling (Putting myself on FBI watchlists so you don't have to!) I find this page. If you look at the B-3 Gravity bomb, it has a yield of 9 megatons, weighing roughly 9,000 kg. Since we're talking about the future we can upgrade those stats; call it 15 MT for 5,000 kg

We'll call that the upper bound on weapon strength, starting out. Of course you'll be able to upgrade it later on. If we look at the last one on the page, we've got bombs you can dial as low as .3 KT, weighing only about 300 kg. Since those limits are largely dependent on the physics of the bomb, not the engineering problems (you have to have a certain amount of material to get a chain reaction), I don't think this is going to get much smaller. So I figure those are the same starting stats for our low end. When we outfit ships, we can feel free to use bombs of any size in those ranges.

So what does that work out into game terms? Well, I'm not yet sure. If I detonate a warhead of energy E0 at a distance R from a spherical spaceship of radius R0, how much energy does the ship absorb? Still haven't figured out the math. What's worse is that I'm having trouble figuring if it's actually a hard question or if I'm just incompetent. Or both. Depending on how I eventually work out that math, we'll have to tweak...

How many hits it can take

This is entirely dependent on the properties of the Langston field. Which I've gone over in a general sense previously. I'd like to leave the specifics of the field functions until the end, so we can shove all our fudge factor into one mass at the end. Neat.

How accurately it fires

This I've got very little idea on. I'm going to say that right up. If we take a quick stop over at the invaluable project rho, the first blue box on that page explains, in part, why we'd prefer attaching our warheads to missiles. Roughly speaking, it's very hard to predict where your opponent is going to be when your projectile hits them. Seeing as we can build targeting computers into the missiles and such, then you can have your projectile constantly accelerating towards the target. Maybe even launch it out of an electromagnetic gun so it's got a very high starting velocity...

Haven't given nearly enough thought to this so far.

How fast it can move.

This is tricky. In space, you don't have a top speed, you have a maximum acceleration. That all goes back to Newton's second law:

Force equals mass times acceleration. F=ma

To get a higher acceleration you have to increase the force (in this case you have to shovel more reaction mass out the back, or shovel it out quicker), or you have to decrease your ship's mass. Unfortunately, we're still in the realm of rocketry, which has some really complicated equations to solve. (In this case I successfully figured out that the equations are well beyond my skill level. I take what victories I can.) Fortunately for you, I can't take this through the rigorous math like I would like to, so we're going to do it all talky style.

Your acceleration depends on your ships mass.
Your mass is the sum of all the stuff you put in the ship; some for engines, some for living space, some for missles, and some for whatever else you want to bring along. Look, I understand it's a nice grand piano. And they don't let you make synthetic ivory anymore, I know. But it'll slow us down in the battle. But I digress. Again.

We're going to have to estimate masses for a lot of stuff.

How much it can carry.

This is actually almost a subset of the previous topic. Each ship will be able to carry some volume of cargo. If you make it a troop transport you should include need more mass for life support, where an ore freighter wouldn't need it.

I suppose there are a couple other parameters that constrain our ship design that I should mention, volume and cost.

There are practical limits to volume; how much air you're willing to ship up to space to fill it, how many reactor shafts you're willing to have open into the Emperor's throne room, that sort of thing. Realistically, they all are cost issues though. I'm also considering imposing an upper limit to volume based on shield physics, just so you know.

Cost as a constraint, well, that's why we're not in space right now. If I could build an atomic rocket for the cost I spend on a luxury car I'd be surfing the spaceways right now. A little more down to earth, well, all of our ships and components and a bombs and whatnot are going to cost resources. Resources which the game will allow you to produce by leveraging the massive industries of space, and so forth. Again, another really complicated can of worms.

Just some food for thought.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Min maxing and fractal mechanics

Some people are crazy.

Ok, lots of people are crazy. All of us, in fact. But this is a particular kind of crazy I want to talk about. The min-maxers. The munchkins, the optimizers and power gamers who will spend hours poring over sourcebooks trying to find half a percentage more dodge rating. The kind of person who will spend literally forty minutes taking a turn just so they're sure they've eked out every last scrape of advantage. Randy. Err... someone who's name I've certainly changed to not reflect on the guilty parties. Let me start over.

Last night I spent a couple hours playing Torchlight for the first time. Yeah, I know it's been out for a while, but I just don't play new video games nearly as much anymore. Torchlight is mostly a repackaging of Diablo II. Close enough that, after spending years playing D2 in high school, I was preemptively sick of torchlight. Even so, I was reluctant to put the game down when it came well past time to go to bed. So naturally I fell asleep reflecting on what made Diablo II a good game to begin with. In my mind, one of the most significant factors is the character creation process, together with the vast range of potential equipment. (Even if you do go for the Burrito Dough Cannon every time.) Which brings me to my topic:

What if I design a game that offers min-maxers unparalleled opportunities to manipulate the rules to maximize their character?

Now check your mouth. For most of you, the bile is rising in the back of your throat. That's good news. It means you're (relatively) normal, and that you should hit your "back" button and flee for your life. This way madness lies. If, on the other hand, you're unconsciously salivating, well, this is the place for you.

So what would be the characteristics of such a game? Well, it'd necessarily be single player. Waiting for five other players to take long, complicated actions and then explain them to everyone else sounds perfectly miserable to me. Maybe two player, if you can convince them to do their setup elsewhere, on their own time.

The main thing is, the rules have to be incredibly complicated. Or at least they have to have incredibly complicated implications. Just having the rules pointlessly complicated is frustrating and boring. So Fizzbin wouldn't qualify. No, we want rules that allow for any amount of complexity you're willing to endure, and most importantly we need a buzzword to describe it:

Fractal mechanics

Fractals are... you know what? Let the power of song explain it, if you don't already know. Here; build your own. Draw a triangle. Then make it into a triforce by drawing an upside down triangle in the middle. Continue by drawing upside down triangles in the rightside up triangles until you can't draw anymore; they're too small. You've made a Sierpinski sieve. The point is, it only requires a simple procedure to make, and yet you can make it as complicated as you want. Neat, huh?

So how would you make fractal mechanics? Well, let's define fractal mechanics to have three basic properties:

The main principle of the rules is easy to grasp; like the way you draw the sieve.
The majority of the benefit gained from the mechanic has to be in the first one or two iterations
The more effort you're willing to put into maximizing the mechanic, the more benefit you'll get out of it.

Let's talk about this in the context of a fantasy RPG. In most of these games (I can't think of a counterexample, but one might exist) the relationship between your character's strength and the damage he does swinging his sword is linear. That is, you add +10 strength you get +20 attack power (WoW), or going from ST 10 to ST 12 increases your basic thrust by the same amount that going from ST 12 to ST 14 would (GURPS). Let's say we change that.

If your sword damage went up proportional to the Square Root of your strength, you get some interesting results. Larding on more strength will always increase your damage, regardless. But the more strength you add the less and less it benefits you. Now, if we also allow that the game has items that either increase or decrease your strength, you have the option of using those. The more strength you have, the less the penalty of decreasing it somewhat, particularly if the item has better bonuses to compensate for the normally large minus.

That's three levels of complexity (+str is always good-> +str gets worse and worse -> items that reduce str aren't always as bad as they seem). The fourth level is much more difficult. Suppose you start with a low strength, and use items to push it in the negatives. What happens? Most games would just redefine that as zero strength to make the math easier, but suppose we don't. If you take the square root of a negative number, you get an imaginary amount of damage. What's that mean? Anything we want it to. Let's say it works like elemental damage in normal games; I can attack for 200 damage +50 fire damage. Instead I'm attacking for 100 real damage and 40 imaginary damage. As long as imaginary damage takes away real hit points, we're still in business.

That's a fourth level of complexity; modulating into imaginary damage for whatever benefits that provides you.

So there you go, a fractal mechanic. Four isn't infinity, but it's close. Is it possible to do better? I'm sure it is, I'm coming up with an example on the fly here. Let's broaden our horizons a bit, to see what that'd accomplish.

Imagine a game where every single one of your stats worked like that; a simple relationship that encompassed hidden depths of complexity. Imagine that every item and modifier you got changes one or more of your stats, or offers other benefits. Imagine doing all that arithmetic by hand. Yeah, I'm thinking this will necessarily have to be a computer game of one sort or another just so you don't have to work things out yourself.

It's an interesting idea. It's only marketable to a certain type of hardcore gamer, and games that require you to be hardcore don't generate fans easily, so I don't see making this as a for profit venture. Maybe as a project, after the Terrible Secret of Space winds up. Actually, I'd better get back to that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Black" Tyrone Gallowglass

A while back I expressed my desire to cart around a mobile GURPS session in my briefcase. As such, I've slowly been accumulating a cast of generic characters to let people borrow. The idea is to be ready at a moments notice, and be able to introduce the game to anyone who's willing to try it. This is one of those characters. First, a bit of background.

He's named for the Black Tyrone, a famed British regiment in India. And by "British" I mean it served the crown, but was composed of Irishmen. Kipling wrote about it. I figured that Black Tyrone makes an excellent name, so I borrowed it. Yeah, stealing names isn't very creative, but I want simple names that evoke the character for this suite. So by appending to him the title "Irish Mercenary" you know most of what you need to know about him, and his character. If you're still annoyed, well, save your complaints until we get to Max Damage, ok? Cause they'll be even more relevant then. On with the sheet:

Oh, wait, one more thing. I abbreviate things on the sheet to make it slightly less confusing to the new player. If you want calculate a basic lift for encumbrance and such, go ahead but I'll ignore it.

ST: 11 HP 12
DX: 12 WP 10
IQ: 10 PE 10
HT: 11 FP 11

Basic move: 5, dodge 9

Combat Reflexes
Patron (Irish Underground)
Danger Sense
Fearless (1)

Duty (Irish Underground)
Compulsive Spending

Hates Englishmen
Dirks Irish Beer, Whiskey. Will drink other things, but will complain about them not being irish.
Uses Colorful Profanity
Tells great stories, carefully scoured of identifying details
Always believes the fight is going well.

Streetwise 14
Fasttalk 12
Brawling 15
Lockpick 10
Stealth 10
Pistol 15
Rapier 14
Intimidate 9
Gambling 11
Move Silently 9

So yeah, one big amalgamation of Irish jokes, right? I'd apologize if I felt there was anything to apologize for. Be thankful that I didn't give him "homemade explosives" as a skill. Still, I expect he's a lot of fun to play; he certainly looked like it when my brother Sam took him for a test run over the holidays. Greed means he's willing and eager to take any mission for money, compulsive spending and chummy mean that he'd rather buy a round for the bar than hoard the money. And paranoia means he's never too trusting of his new drinking buddies. Oh, and he hates the English. Of course he does.

So let's ask Private Mulvaney what he thinks:

"Now there are Oirish an' Oirish. The good are as good as the best, but the bad are wurrst than the wurrst. 'Tis this way. They clog together in pieces as fast as thieves, an' no wan knows fwhat they will do till wan turns informer an' the gang is bruk. But ut begisn again a day later, meetin' in holes an' corners an' swearin' bloody oaths an' shtickin' a man in the back an' runnin' away, an' thin waitin' for the blood-money on the reward papers-- to see if it's worth enough. Those are the Black Oirish, an' 'tis they that bring dishgrace upon the name av Oireland, an' thim I wud kill--as I nearly killed wan wanst."

(From Soldiers Three, by Ruyard Kipling)