Monday, January 16, 2017

Using the Core GUMSHOE Rule in Other Systems

At its heart, the GUMSHOE system boils down to the following:
Gathering clues is simple. All you have to do is: 1) get yourself into a scene where relevant information can be gathered and 2) have the right ability to discover the clue and 3) tell the GM that you’re using it. As long as you do these three things, you will never fail to gain a piece of necessary information. It is never dependent on a die roll. If you ask for it, you will get it.
This ethos can be applied to other game systems pretty easily, without bringing in the supporting structure of ability pools that traditional GUMSHOE uses. Many other systems have traits that are useful for gathering information. If a player finds themselves in a scene and describes how their character uses one of these traits in pursuit of information, the GM can just give their character the appropriate clue if one is there to be found. Don't rely on a roll that could fail and leave the characters without necessary information.

And it's true — you may already do this in your system of choice!

One element of GUMSHOE that might require some adaptation into your favorite game is the ability to spend points from an investigative ability to gain some benefit. If you want to include this feature in your game, you can just assign a certain number of uses per scenario based on how highly rated the character is in a particular information-gathering trait. Each use should give a bonus to a more active trait or provide a narrative benefit like gaining a temporary ally or declaring facts about the scene.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Discworld RPG Review

The Discworld Roleplaying Game is a standalone fantasy RPG written by Phil Masters with rules based on GURPS Fourth Edition by Steve Jackson Games. It is the second edition of Discworld RPG, following the original GURPS Discworld published in 1998 and reprinted under the Discworld RPG name in 2002.

For those who may not be familiar, Discworld is the setting of an extremely popular series of fantasy novels written by Sir Terry Pratchett. The Disc consists of a flat, circular plane resting on the backs of four elephants who in turn stand on the shell of an enormous turtle which swims through space. It began as a fairly traditional — if satirical — fantasy world, but through over 40 novels, Pratchett advanced the setting into a rich canvas on which to poke fun at the peculiarities of modern life.

The first edition of the Discworld RPG was based on GURPS Third Edition, and it included GURPS Lite, a pared down version of the core system. Still, it relied perhaps too much on knowledge of the full GURPS rules. The new Discworld RPG is a full-featured RPG on its own, adapting whole chapters from the GURPS Basic Set, including character creation and tasks. No other GURPS books are needed to play, and in fact Discworld makes few references to the great GURPS line.

As a GURPS fan first, I was particularly interested to see how the rules were integrated. I am very happy with what I found. The basic structure of the game is familiar from GURPS Fourth Edition, but everything has been reorganized for better reference — and to make it easier to learn as well.

Character creation, for example, is split into two chapters. The first covers common traits that could appear on any character, while the second covers exotic traits useful for making fantasy races as well as templates to speed up making your character. Each chapter includes running examples of a character made using the rules in that section — a custom-built human enchantress, and a dwarf thaumaturgist built using templates.

The combat rules keep the basic combat system of GURPS without layering on the added complexity of maps and tactical combat. However, a few specific extra rules are included where they play to the genre. A few types of called shot are spelled out, for example, with including the entire hit location system.

Discworld RPG even includes an entirely new magic system. Phil Masters compiled GURPS Thaumatology, an entire book about alternate magic systems, and he used his knowledge from that volume to craft a simple yet robust magic system that focuses more on a spell's narrative impact than specific factors like range and damage.

Physically, Discworld RPG is a 408-page hardcover with black-and-white interior printed on a slightly heavier stock that feels very good to the touch. Illustrations are by Paul Kidby and Sean Murray, with cover art by Kidby. Most art is excellent, though some pieces are less polished and resemble pencil sketches.

This edition of the Discworld RPG is a solid fantasy game that could probably serve as someone's first roleplaying game, if they were a big enough fan of the novels. As a fan of GURPS, I am very excited by the adaptation of the system. It gives me hope that the forthcoming Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game will make similar changes. If it does, I think it'll be another fine standalone game like this one.

Style: 3/5. Physical composition is excellent as is layout, but enough weak art pieces make me mark this one down to merely average.
Substance: 5/5. In addition to presenting a complete take on the GURPS rules in only about a hundred pages, the book gives enough setting information and GMing advice that a non-reader of the source material like me could follow along and start plotting out a few adventure ideas.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Chunky vs. Smooth: No Wrong Play Style

There is a commonly accepted division in tabletop roleplaying between the mechanics of a rules system — its "crunch" — and the fiction and setting elements of the game — the "fluff." These terms are usually thrown around to disparage one or the other. A "crunchy" game is too rules heavy; a "fluffy" game is inconsistent or driven by fiat.

I've come to think of games by a different metaphor: "chunky" games vs. "smooth" ones. A chunky game has more complex rules, yes, but they are there as something for players to sink their teeth into. Those rules make the experience more "game-like" by engaging skills like tactical reasoning and resource management.

A smooth game has simpler rules more fully integrated into the fiction. Instead of engaging with the system, players can enjoy digging into their character or the world and story they inhabit. The rules do their best either to "get out of the way" and let players tell a story or in fact facilitate that story through narrative mechanics.

I don't think either of these styles is better or worse than the other. While I may personally enjoy chunky games more, I can appreciate smooth games for the different kind of fun they deliver. What do you think? Do you have a preference for chunky or smooth? Feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Am I Playing/Running Right Now?

Last week, I looked ahead to 2017 and the gaming stuff I'm looking to pick up and what I want to run or play. But that's the future. What does my present gaming look like right now?

D&D 5e

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition currently dominates my gaming schedule. I run a weekly game on Wednesdays at a local gaming cafe for a regular stable of players. Currently, they are making their way through the Storm King's Thunder adventure, but they completed Curse of Strahd late last year with one of their number replacing Strahd as lord of Barovia.

Every other Monday, I run a campaign set in Forgotten Realms of the original First Edition boxed set. The player characters are working against the church of Shar, who seems to have some nefarious plans for the Realms. The party has just arrived in Shadowdale to consult with a certain sage about historic matters.

Finally, on the alternate Mondays, I am playing a half-orc barbarian in a campaign set in Kenzer & Company's Kingdoms of Kalamar setting. Our group helped resettle an abandoned dwarven mining complex that had succumbed to a fiendish plague. Now we are trying to find some hippogriffs to train as aerial mounts.


For the last several years, I've run one-shots of Wardens of Ouon, my Fate Accelerated world of magical unicorns protecting an ancient forest. However, I knew that if I wanted to move the game toward publication, I would need to do a longer-term campaign to shake out possible problems. About two months ago, I started such a campaign on Thursdays. We've only gotten through character and campaign creation and the first scenario so far. I anticipate running this game for at least another couple of months.


I do technically have an ongoing GURPS campaign, but scheduling has meant we only play one session every few months. The campaign is a high-action zombie apocalypse game strongly inspired by the Left 4 Dead series of video games. We play online on Sundays with my friend who moved to North Carolina last year for work.

Shadowrun Anarchy

Toward the end of last year, I ran a session of Shadowrun Anarchy for a couple friends. We got through character creation and a mission both in about three hours, which was impressive. Plus the game was a lot of fun! We have another session scheduled in a couple of weeks, so I guess this is an ongoing game, too!

Monday, January 9, 2017

What Am I Doing On YouTube and Twitch?

For a while now, I've been streaming content to Twitch and archiving those streams on YouTube. Lately, that's meant a lot of video game streaming, because my XBOX One lets me stream to Twitch right from my game.

Right now, I'm playing through Fallout 4 with a focus on building settlements and crafting. I also have been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I should start going back to that again soon. You can check out the playlists for those two below.

Before I started those, I did a few streams of Paul Plays Old Games. In particular, I was playing through Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, but I think those videos had some technical difficulties. I'm planning to restart PPOG with a run of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past soon, so stay tuned.

On the tabletop side of things, I have a series called Let's Make a Character, where I took polls about what system, type of character, etc., and then made a character from the book live on my stream. I also did a few impromptu episodes without community feedback, and I called those Let's Make a Character On a Whim.

That's what I have available at the moment, but I have plans for more stuff, including pre-recorded videos going straight to YouTube. Keep an eye out for that, and subscribe on YouTube or follow me on Twitch if you want to be notified of when my new stuff goes up.

If you like this content, consider pledging to my Patreon at

Friday, January 6, 2017

Reminder: Fridays Are For Fragments

Today marks the first regular installment of Fragments at my imprint's site, I put up a preview installment when I launched my new blogging effort earlier this week — you can check out the swamp dryad here — but normally these pieces will release on Fridays.

This week's Fragment includes an NPC stat block for an elven warlock and the new warlock patron she uses: the Ancestors patron. Arith would make a useful ally for low- to mid-level heroes, and the powers she draws from her ancestors gives her some interesting tricks that you won't find coming from your typical warlock.

Fragments are available for free every week at If you enjoy this content, please consider pledging to my Patreon at

Thursday, January 5, 2017

GURPS Mars Attacks Review

Mars Attacks began as a trading card property originally produced in 1962 by the Topps Company. The original 55 cards presented a B-movie science-horror story of invasion by skinless, large-brained alien sadists from the planet Mars. In the decades since, the cards have been reprinted and updated several times, and the property was even adapted into a major motion picture by Tim Burton in 1996.

GURPS Mars Attacks, written by Jason "PK" Levine, is a roleplaying game adaptation published by Steve Jackson Games, who have also produced board games using the property (Mars Attacks: The Dice Game and Mars Attacks: Ten-Minute Takedown). The book updates the setting from the 1960s to the nebulous present, and details the invasion from decades of covert action (birthing the UFO scares of the mid-20th century) through the first year or so of direct conflict.

The invasion progresses in stages as the aliens unleash new horrors on the people of Earth, and the plucky humans adapt, band together, and counter them in turn. Each stage can be taken as a jumping off point for a campaign, offering flexibility of scope and theme. The timeline stops short of offering a definitive end to the story. Do the Martians overwhelm humanity with technological advantage and a complete lack of empathy? Or can human ingenuity prevail and fight back the monsters from our neighbor planet? That's up to your table to decide.

Physically, GURPS Mars Attacks is a 96-page hardcover, a form factor I usually dislike because of how slight the book feels. And yes, this one feels thin and light in my hands, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing, given how much is packed into the limited space. The pages are full-color to take advantage of the original Topps art, on a stock that feels, dare I say, luxuriant. The art, too, is magnificent, with nearly every page sporting an evocative illustration.

There's a surprising amount going in between these covers. In addition to the setting chapter providing multiple times and places to set campaigns, the faction backgrounds and rules material support playing as either the invading Martians, Earth military forces, or civilian and paramilitary human resistance fighters. Character templates — essential for guiding character creation in a system like GURPS — each come with pre-written variants that turn a generic "human civilian", for example, into a socialite, a mechanic, or even a zoo employee! (There is apparently a memorable moment in a recent re-release featuring humans unleashing lions on a squad of Martians at the Bronx Zoo.)  And 26 pages(!) is given over to GM advice on everything from balancing levels of gore and camp to moving the setting back to its Atomic Age roots to finally rapping up a campaign with one side emerging on top.

Of course, at 96 pages, there's plenty that couldn't fit in the available space. Vehicles, from saucers to aerospace fighters to giant robots, are presented in the barebones format of the GURPS Basic Set. Equipment unique to the setting is extremely limited, with references made to other GURPS "toolkit" books like Ultra-Tech. Throughout, Levine makes references to other books from the decade-plus run of GURPS Fourth Edition as optional expansions. Yes, these are properly optional, but still, this is the first time I've been genuinely happy that Fourth Edition dropped the extensive prefixed cross-references of 90s to early 2000s GURPS products.

In the name of full disclosure, I was predisposed to purchasing this book because I'm a longtime fan of and sometimes writer for GURPS. But I wasn't necessarily expecting to like it all that much. I'd seen the Tim Burton movie and all I could remember were silly CGI aliens that barked like dogs and blew up when they heard country music. So I was very surprised when I opened up this tight, evocative campaign guide. I'm already thinking about the games I'd run in this world.

Style: 4/5. This one really only suffers for being a too-slim hardcover because Steve Jackson Games just doesn't make softcovers anymore.
Substance: 4/5. I would have been happy with about 16 more pages, split pretty evenly between Martian and Earth gear and three or four more character templates.