Sunday, March 23, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: A non-fantasy model for religions

This post is the fourth in the series GURPS Social Academy exploring the use in practice of ideas from GURPS Social Engineering (with some personal twists). These articles relate to my new campaign The Empress of India. This article is not expanding on ideas from Social Engineering but instead contains an original way to represent religions in a way that is realistic and respectful to theists, atheists and agnostic players (I hope).

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.


Religions are defining factors for theists, yet they are a matter of personal experience. In other words, a two friends of different religions can can find solace and resolve while being equally sincere in their Faith. The experience is real and tangible at the personal level. Faith provides strength of the mind when the worshipper believes to be in grace, and a weakness of mind when it believes to be impure or a sinner.

Theism and Atheism

Theism [5] is an advantage whereby the Will of a character is increased by 1 when the character believes to be pure or in good grace. The counter to this perk is that the belief of being impure or with unforgiven sins incurs a penalty of -1 on Will. 

Theists must either select the religious [-5] or devout [-10] code of conduct that defines the rites and behaviours prescribed in order to be pure/in good grace.  Devouts must abide by a much more severe code of conduct, but in return are subject to a +2 or -2 modifier on their Will.

Atheism [5] is an advantage that is not bound to any code of conduct. Because atheists have an equal conviction that there are no supernatural interventions over the world, their presence undermines and disturbs the conviction of theists. This abnegating effect takes place only if the atheist is known to be this way: there is no magic or invisible aura around an atheist. As a result, they benefit of a bonus of +1 on Will-based check to resist influence checks made by theists. Additionally, the presence of atheists incurs a -1 penalty to prayers if they are involved in anyway in the request for divine intervention. However, known atheists suffer -1 reaction penalty with theists. 

Agnostic characters are neither theist nor atheist. They may believe in something, it just doesn't have an in-game effect. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: PCs as targets of Influence Checks

This post is the third in the series GURPS Social Academy exploring the use in practice of ideas from GURPS Social Engineering (with some personal twists). These articles relate to my new campaign The Empress of India

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.

Principle: You are not your character

It is important to keep in mind that player skills and knowledge are distinct from these of the characters. GURPS players already know that since a curious character will sometime have to do the wrong thing if he/she fails to resist vs Will. In the Palantir Commission campaign, the characters never found out that the squire could cast spells and simply assumed that the Valars were on their side. The players, however, had great fun with this plot twist. 

This article is about PCs being the target of Influence Checks. You got to be OK with the separation of player/character knowledge for it to work, but it is fun to play out. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: The unassisted influence check

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaign The Empress of India. This article follows from the last article on Reaction rolls.

I use liberally the concept of aspect that I have taken from FATE. There is a lot of RPG wisdom in FATE, but the resolution philosophy of GURPS wins the cake for me.

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.

GMing with Influence Checks

The influence check is about using a skill or an attribute to influence the narrative by manipulating others. An influence check is unique: its outcome shall be final for the duration of a scene.

It is important to let a failed roll determine the outcome as negative. Re-rolling, in a sense, is taking away the rewards to building a character to be good at something.

Influence checks should be made when both success and failure makes for an interesting story. If this isn't the case, then there is no need to roll: just say so.

Monday, March 17, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: The Reaction roll

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaign The Empress of India.

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.

I consider the reaction roll as a way to turn GMing into playing: you got to be prepared for sharp turns and true tests of robustness of the storyline.

GMing with reaction rolls

The reaction roll determines the attitude of a NPC or a group of NPC towards one or more PCs. It is automatic, done in secret by the GM if the reaction is not already scripted by the narrative. Many of the social modifiers apply to this check. Disadvantages may also be relevant and resisted. The timing of a reaction roll depend on how much time is needed to determine an attitude.

Altering reaction levels

The narrative may alter the reaction level. A player may deliberately alter reaction by performing influence checks. A success should improve the level by 1 category, even of the MoS if the contest isn’t sufficient to do so.

Effect of positive reaction levels

Some levels act as automatic influence checks. Favours scan be granted within specified limits for good and better reactions. NPC with good and better reactions can be purchased as contact, allies and patrons. Neutral NPCs can be purchased with the “minimal intervention” modifier.

Effect of negative reaction levels

These NPCs act as enemies. The commitment of a NPC to the downfall of a PC depends on the story and the level. The GM may allow to purchase an enemy if the NPC may have a lasting effect on the campaign.

Why using reactions

Reaction rolls add a lot of unpredictability for the GM as it may send a story in a wide range of direction. Sometimes, this may be a bad idea, sometime it is just a fun way to play with fire. Most importantly, reaction rolls allow PCs to influence a story by using good role play and their hard-earned social traits. If they spend points for it… They should be able to have fun with them.

Playing with Reaction rolls (examples)

Nathan walks into a bar

Nathan, a military man, walks into a bar which main clientele are Mughal Army officers. Since his Savoir-Faire(military) is 12 or more, he gets + 1 other officers. He doesn’t really outrank anyone (Lt vs Lt on average), but his lord status (3) is one higher than the average (+ 1). However, both English and Mughals are chauvinistic. Nathan fails to resist his (rolls 16) while the clientele does (rolls 5). Chauvinism causes -1 overall because Nathan can’t quite hide his contempt (dirty glass, improper behaviours, etc.). Nathan also has an irritating catch-phrase “Oh, I remember Peshawar…”, he pass his Will check and avoid factoring in this annoying quirk. Finally, one can argue that since Nathan is fat and unfit, he comes across as a poor image of an army man (-1).

The reaction roll is 11 + 0 = 11. The clientele is neutral to Nathan. Good thing that he has a military background or else he would have had a poor reaction (9).

Special case where Nathan has Savoir-Faire(military)-10

Let’s assume a case similar to the example above, but where Nathan doesn’t have 12 in his Savoir-Faire. In this case, Nathan should check against Savoir-Faire(military) in order to make the bonus apply. For flavour, it is possible that a penalty be imposed on the skill if the GM rules that the decorum in the Mughal army is different enough than in the English army. Say, Savoire-Faire(military)-10.

Gene confronts protestors

Gene decides to meet with the protestors outside the embassy. The protestors are chanting against the presence of English on Delhi, and specifically against her presence. The GM sets the reaction to very poor. They want her out, but are not fired up to the point that they would commit reckless acts such as commit crimes just because they don’t like her.

After the session, and because Gene hasn’t appeased them, the GM “awards” the protestors as an enemy group (base: – 10, frequency: 9 or less, watchers) [-2cp]. These may just come back to be annoying later on.

In this case, a reaction roll is likely to throw the story off if the protestors turns out to be friendly. It makes more sense to set a reaction and let Gene performs an Influence check to tune the reaction.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

K26 - The Rising Hall

Taking a breather

Bain took a last look at the rabble across the unending well. Hundreds of ancestors, pulled from their tombs to jeer and gesticulate offensively at his dwarves. He headed back up to the East Gate Hall and ordered the rotation of the Mithril-Attack out of Khazad-dum. Bronze filled in, with strict order to avoid descending to the first deep except for a skeleton crew to keep a watch on the Hall of Trees.

Khazek left with Donarik and his Goldleaf rangers. Thordar reported to the hospital camp to have the wound in his thigh bandaged. The festering, unhealing gash in his cheek that was made by the Ghouls months ago started to tingle. The poison spread to his blood and made him very sick. He vomited for the whole of the following day and missed on the slow slug of the Silver-Attack up the Marzabul stairs.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

K25 - A needle in a haystack

Getting Started

Previous Scene: Lemmings
Location: East Gate
Present: Khazek, Bain
NPCs: ?

Special Circumstances:
  • Everyone’s Will is at -1 at the moment to reflect a malaise that is affecting the invading force.

  • Bain wants to get Lathmelen back from her diplomatic mission into Lorien. She was last seen entering the woods through the East approach (Red dot).
  • Khazek and Bain are conferring in the East Gate hall. Khazek may leave on his own, bring rangers  or anyone else.

Khazek is more than excited to get back outside and under the open sky. He will select a small group of Rock Walkers (hopefully the 7 ‘usual suspects’ that he normally takes with him. Are Gimvar and Donnarik up to snuff?) He will get as much information from Bain about the Elf woods and from anywhere else he can scrounge up information before heading out.
Important Skills he will be needing are:
  • Tracking: 19
  • Survival Woodlands: 16
  • Area Knowledge (Rhovanion): 13
  • Navigation Land: 13


Khazek has three patrols of 7 rangers at his disposition. Each patrol is training well in all key area, but each has developed a specialty of their own. One should be sent to the West Gate to link with Farin’s force.

  1. Goldleaf: Lead by Donarik. They are surefooted and quiet. Donarik is respected and loved by his dwarves. The best trackers are in this patrol. Donarik is still an insolent bastard, but responsibility has given him a tad of wisdom [Khazek teaching check PASS, morale good, quality good.]
  2. Arrowroot: Lead by Gimvar. They are the tough, brawling and insubordinate ones. They never were the same after their foray into the underdeep. Gimvar keeps tab on the lot. They are the least excitable of the three patrols. [Khazek teaching check FAILED, morale OK, quality good]
  3. Saffron: Lead by Bakar Bluebeard. Bakar is a great teacher himself and has high standards of marksmanship. Saffran has not participated into serious action so far. However, they acquitted themselves of all their assignments very well so far. Khazek just don’t know how they will react when they see themselves “in the eyes of the elephants”. [Khazek teaching check PASS, moral OK, quality OK?]

Area Knowledge

Lorien is a mystical place. However, Khazek knows enough about Rhovanion [AK(Rhovanion)-13, -4 Lorien, MoS +1] to be aware of the main entry points into the forbidden forest and the key landmarks. Khazek knows of the path shown on the map which was once used in the trade with Khazad-dum. He also knows about Caras Galadhon, the nerve center of elfdom. He is aware that historically, elves used the Celebrant to ferry materiel in and out of Lothlorien.

Each 3.9 miles on the map is about 1h of walk at full speed. 2h to get to the edge of Lothlorien. The current time is 1000.

Lathmelen’s last words

She complained that Lothlorien seemed abandoned. She planned to look for Cara Galadhon, then return to the dwarves. Lathmelen is traveling on an elven horse given to her by Thrandhuil himself when they last met at Sarn Goriwig. She confided to Khazek, whom she likes very much, that she was worried that the last of the dream elves at left Middle-Earth without saying goodbye.

On good thing is, if you are not an elf, and you want to be found. You probably will...


  1. Who is going along? Who is going West?
    1. Goldleaf will come with Khazek to the forest, Arrowroot will go over the mountain to West-Group while Saffron will remain in the valley providing perimeter scouting or whatever other functions are needed.
  2. Where to begin, how far to go?
    1. Khazek will plan to enter the forest and follow the river to where he believes Lathmelen was heading. He also hopes that this would be the path she would take to make it back to Khazad-Dum after she was done. (Ive marked Khazek’s proposed route on the map, of course it could change given developments discovered along the way.)
  3. What is the overall general strategy? Key skills to rely upon?
    1. Tracking: Looking for evidence of what?
      1. Tracking for ANYTHING larger than an animal. Specifically 2 legged folk, Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Orcs.. etc and of course Lathmelen’s horse!
    2. Navigation: Where to?
      1. To the Elf city Cara Galadhon, hopefully following the banks of the river will make it considerably easier.
  4. In the abstracted travel, what should trigger me to pause and report to Khazek?
    1. Anything that seems important or unexpected (signs of anything passing recently that might be a danger or lead him to Lathmelen)

The forbidden forest

Technical details: [Tracking-19, MoS:+7; Navigation-13, MoS:+0]
Khazek rounds up the Rock Walkers and issues his orders. Goldleaf will be entering the land of dreams with him while Arrowroot will link with Battlegroup-West. Saffron will remain in Dimrill Dale to provide area patrols. Saffron is now the main force assigned to area patrols since the Bronze-Attack was mobilized to enter Khazad-dum.

By noon, the eight rangers are reaching the edge of Lothlorien. The forest takes on an unusual look as they progress deeper into the land of dreams. The trees are taller, mightier. The ground is mossier, soft and rich. Khazek notices that the water from the celebrant seems to have poisoned whatever is growing on its banks.  

Khazek looks for tracks but finds nothing.  Absolutely nothing. It is like the forest has had no animal living in it ever. Khazek isn’t sure whether this is normal in this land or not. He cross-references with his observations from Queen Ildamadhui’s garden and sees a few similarities. However, there are no birds singing, no insects.  Donarik notices that Khazek gets distracted and takes over the patrol lead. Following the river is simple, the rangers are moving at first at a good pace. However, soon enough as the afternoon grows old, they soften their pace and relax.

A white doe comes into sight and beckons the rangers to follow inland away from the celebrant river. The doe is a bit skittish. [Reaction check with the doe: Charisma +1, Elven blade +1, race in decline -1, Pacifism +1].

Khazek 20140223 -  Seeing the deer intrigues Khazek, especially since he has not seen any tracks from such an animal. Khazek notifies his rangers to be on guard. Khazek and the rangers quietly follow the creature. Along the way, Khazek will check the ground for the beasts tracks.

[reaction roll: 6+2=8, poor]
The doe is startled by the dwarves and begins bouncing nervously across the forest. However, she seems to be slowing down to let the rangers keep up. They follow a gentle incline upward, heading North. Khazek has to hurry a bit to keep up. By the time that the doe pass beyond the crest of a rise, Khazek turns around a finds himself alone. There are no signs of the other rangers. He can hear the doe bouncing away to his North, but suspect that his colleagues have fallen behind to the South. The light overhead suggest a late morning, but this makes no sense to him as it should be later afternoon.

Khazek 20140224 - Unsure of what exactly is going on, Khazek continues in his pursuit of the doe. Before moving on, however, he makes a very obvious mark on the ground indicating that he had been here and which direction he was heading off in, hoping that his Rock Walkers were at least good enough to track a plainly marked path.

An interview with Ngaii

Khazek follows the doe, mostly by ear since she apparently leaves no traces on the ground. He proceeds until he catch from the corner of his eye the silhouette of someone he know. It is Princess Ngaii, daughter of King Thrandhuil. She is dressed plainly in white linen and is wearing no visible jewelry. "I'm glad to see you again young Prince.", she says.

"Lathmelen is fine. She is with me.", she adds with a smile. "Dwarves should never come into Lothlorien. Dwarves cannot stand alone and in this land everyone is alone." A whisp of sadness shrouds her smile for a moment. She invites the ranger to sit at a table that was set amidst the gold leaves and the trees.

"It pains me to see you here. You brought with you a sinister stalker, Prince.", She pours a clear liquid from a carafe to a silver cup. Khazek notices the inscriptions are in Old Naugrim. This cup came from Khazad-dum, probably a long time ago.

"I see that the curse has withdrawn from the Celebrant." (the river running through Lothlorien). "Tell me, young Prince, about your toils.". She offers the cup to the ranger.

Khazek 20140224 - “What are you doing here? We left you back in Thranduil Hall months ago.” Khazek takes the cup and drinks from it. He tries hard to rein in his impetuous ways with some courtly skill “What in Durin’s name is going on here? Have you seen Lathmelen? Why do you keep talking to the deer? And no one is stalking me, why do you say someone is stalking me?”

[-1 Impetuous, +1 Savior Faire (Court)-11, (-2) Status of 2 vs Ngaii of 4, (+2) Rank of 2. +1 Friends of elves, charisma;+1. Roll: 11+1=12, Good.]

Khazek’s impetuosity turns out to be a bit much for Ngaii. Khazek remembers his manners but is full of questions and doesn’t have the patience for elven riddles. At the end of the day, the young officer’s natural charms manages to draw a smile out of the elf princess.

The drink is exquisite. Khazek can’t quite tell what it is, but it could be water. It fills him with a sense of wellbeing that he has not experienced before.

Ngaii speaks slowly and deliberately for the next little while. She suggests that she is now the elf queen since the departure of Lady Galadriel. She inquires about the viceroy. Khazek can see the star in the sky move quickly in semi-circles.

Khazek can barely pay attention after a while. Lathmelen appears to be somewhere in Lothlorien. Ngaii tries to calm him down. She seems interested in what the dwarves have been up to.

Khazek 20140224 - Khazek freely tells Ngaii all that the Dwarves have encountered so far since reaching Khadad-Dum. He asks how to find Lathmelen and then wonders where all the other Elves have gone. Khazek stares at the pretty lights swirling around for a while, then turns and asks Ngaii why the Dwarven ancestors have started behaving so poorly and what Evil lurks in the mines of Moria.

Ngaii humors the ranger for a long while. She listens carefully, answers questions politely. She believes that there is indeed treachery that made the ancestor walk. She points out that the river that once was poisonous is coming back to normal: that she has seen a fish in the flows for the first time today.

The deceased walk only for one reason: restlessness. In the case of Dwarves, Ngaii doesn’t believe that the ancestors have really returned. I fear that the old Maiar has not left Middle-Earth just yet, making a reference to the Balrog. She asks Khazek to inspect his elven sword. “This blade can dispatch restless souls. Spare your axes, hammers and pointy sticks. This is one of the best gifts that elvendom may have for you.”

She offers an amulet to Khazek and begs him to take this amulet to Bain Stonetongue. “This is the amulet of Irmo. It is a gift from the Queen of elves to him. Bring it back when this is all over, for I do not know for how long I can part with it.”

She tells him that Lathmelen will join the dwarves to complete her work.

Khazek is drowsy. Time is standing still. Ngaii gets this sad look once more. “I told you you once that the land of dream is a dangerous place. I will let you go, but I cannot help you any further: you are alone and you brought with you a great danger.”

Khazek doses off.

The Stalker

Khazek wakes up after a nap that could as well have lasted for a thousand years. He is aware of the weather: a cold nip carrying nearly icy droplets of rain. The sun is warming the moss and creates a shroud of ground fog. He can see the towering mount Silvertine to the north.

Khazek awakes to the faint sound of slithering. No one but him would have heard the noise, but he knows that there is a very large snake rustling leaves and lurking in the brushes some 20 yd. away from him. His equipment is some 5 yd. away towards the snake. There are no reasons to believe that the snake is aware that Khazek is no longer sleeping.

Khazek 20140224 - Khazek slowly moves toward his gear, staying low and trying not to alert the snake. Khazek peers around, trying to get his bearings.

Khazek manages to slip silently to the rock where his stuff was leaning against. The stalker, a 6+ yd. long constrictor of some kind (he’s never seen this species before), is heading towards his original position.

Screenshot 2014-02-25 19.58.17.png

At this precise moment, the stalker spots the ranger. Khazek is in the crouched position, with access to his staff and sword. Everything else is in the pack. The bow is not strung, he seems to remember unstringing while he was talking to Ngaii.  

Khazek 20140225 - Khazek watches and studies the snake. The snake slowly makes it way toward Khazek and the young Dwarf slowly retreats. Eventually the snake climbs up into the branches of the canopy above. They continue their slow dance until Khazek finally makes his stand near a rock. The snake drops from above and Khazek sets his spear, bracing for the attack. The snake twists and avoids the point of the spear and tries to grab Khazek but the Dwarf drops back quickly and brings his spear to bear again.

Screenshot 2014-02-26 07.22.39.png

The stalker falls to the ground behind the retreating ranger. Khazek retaliates with a swift blow which is avoided by the beast at the cost of moving its forward quarter out of striking reach. However, the stalker swings its rear half to grapple the ranger but failed to get a grip. Khazek retaliates with an impaling blow that lodges itself deep inside of the stalker’s body. The stalker, uses the action as a leverage to lunge forward after a brief deceptive move (AoA determined canceled by a deceptive attack to neutralize the ranger’s defense), but its body overshoots and simply thud against Khazek’s legs.

Screenshot 2014-02-26 09.54.28.png

Khazek moved back and hit the snake again, this time through its head. The stalker’s body fell to the ground, stunned. Khazek finished it off before it had the time to recover and fight back.

Awakening from a dream

Shortly after expiring, Khazek notices a faint shadow splitting away from the stalker’s body and moving swiftly close to the ground. The shadow is heading North, apparently towards the nearby edge of Lothlorien.  It is fast, but not too fast for the ranger if he hustles.

Khazek 20140226 - Khazek watches the shadow curiously as it slithers away and thinks about Lathmelen and his rangers. He longs to follow the shadow, but then remembers his duty to his Rock Walkers and to Bain and Lathmelen. Turning, he heads back toward where he believes his rangers might be, hoping they at least made an attempt to follow him.

Khazek begins running behind the shadow but soon gets a hold of his emotions. He hesitates, look back into Lothlorien and decides to head back in to search for his Rock Walkers. He traces his step back to the river, some 2 hours later. For the longest time, he doesn’t find the footsteps steps of his rangers. He doesn’t understand why they have disappeared.

At one point, he finds the steps of one of them. They are so light, barely perceptible. Khazek realizes that Lothlorien isn’t “behaving” the way other locations do. He remembers the movement of stars in the sky and figure that he may have spend days wandering in the woods.

In the distance, he hears the steps of a horse riding at a fast pace. By his hunch, the rider isn’t quite heading his way, but would be passing North of his position beyond the crest of an incline.

Khazek 20140228 - The young Dwarf breaks into a run, hoping to get to a point where he can at least see, and if necessary, hail the rider, believing that it must be Lathmelen.

And a small world it is. Khazek runs up the incline and then down into a vale, which wasn’t there when he came in looking for the river. The forest looks more familiar: tree species are more typical of Rhovanion, he can even spot tracks of small game on the ground as he intercepts Lathmelen.

The elf is riding her purebred, which first hears Khazek, then cue the elf to his presence. Lathmelen is wearing a beautiful light plate armor made of finely crafted and intricate components. A matching elm is hooked on her saddle.

“Here you are, young Prince.”, she says as her palfrey turns around and slows to a trot. Queen Ngaii has released the both of us, for we have much to do. Galadriel had foretold that the soul of the Balrog would withdraw from the Celebrant river when the heir to Durin returned. Whether he is retreating or fading, no one can tell, but I fear the former option.

Khazek 20140301 - ... “Hey, there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you! What have you, um, where did you get that armor? Did you find, wait, why do you keep calling me Prince? Did you see that snake? I saw some shadow form slink out of it after I killed it. The forest looks different now. Did you do that? Come on. Let’s get back to report to Bain. I’m glad to see you, by the way, I’ve missed you. Oh yea, have you seen my Rock Walkers? I left them around here somewhere.” After he calms down a bit from his initial meeting with Lathmelen, Khazek will ask her if she found what she had been looking for in Lothlrien and if she had figured anything out. He also fills her in on the Dwarves progress and problems at Moria as well.

Whoa. Lathmelen jumps off her horse.

“Be at peace young Prince.”, she replies. “I missed you too my friend. I’m afraid that your friends have to find the strenght on their own before they can leave Lothlorien. Queen Ngaii has released the both of us, at odds with the laws of the land. We really do need to talk to the Viceroy. I bear serious tidings for him.”

She offers the dwarf to climb on her palfrey. “You are a prince to me. C’mon now. There are none of Yavanna’s snake in Lothlorien. Whatever you saw was a creature of Morgoth.”

Once saddled up, they ride with haste as the young dwarf blurts updates with the coherence of a twitter feed.