Level One Forever: Less Is More


I love level one characters. Love them. Imagine how much you love leveling up in your game of choice. Masterwork that feeling and add a +2 bonus to hit, and that's about how much I love role-playing level one characters. Why, you may mumble incoherently into your computer screen? There are many reasons, one of which is the ideal that players should overcome obstacles with their intellect, tenacity, audacity or luck, not their magical items.

I love level one characters. Love them. Imagine how much you love leveling up in your game of choice. Masterwork that feeling and add a +2 bonus to hit, and that's about how much I love role-playing level one characters. Why, you may mumble incoherently into your computer screen? There are many reasons, one of which is the ideal that players should overcome obstacles with their intellect, tenacity, audacity or luck, not their magical items.

Most scenarios give out way too much magical loot to begin with, and even in the stingiest campaigns, goodies tend to accumulate. As a result, the little things become less satisfying. "Gee, there's a wall. I'll just use my Slippers of Spider Climb to walk over it. Or my Flying Carpet to fly over it. Or my Codpiece of Etherealness to walk through it. Or my Spittoon of Teleportation to warp to the other side. Or my Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to blow it up." High level characters just suck the joy out of role-playing. Jerks.

especially if the walls are sheer or covered with a mixture of teflon and melted butter

From the perspective of a level one character, a three story wall is nothing to scoff at, especially if the walls are sheer or covered with a mixture of teflon and melted butter. A group could spend a good half hour or more debating on how to make a human pyramid to climb it, or who should attempt to scale it and lower a rope. I'm not suggesting that small, ordinary tasks like this should bog down a game to the point of interfering with the plot, but they offer much more enjoyment than using higher level magic or abilities to cheat the situation.

In my first dungeon experience, I was a rogue accompanying a Hex Blader and some kind of Spirit Shaman guy. We were doing all right until about halfway through the dungeon, when we encountered a narrow corridor. The fact we could only traverse it single file and the look in the Dungeon Master's eyes tipped me off right away. It was trapped. Big time. So I volunteered to go first while the others waited behind. CLICK. A stream of lightning shot forward, which I narrowly dodged by flipping backwards. I paused, then sighed a breath of relief, sensing the trap was over. Assuming it was a one shot trap, I stepped forward again. CLICK. A second bolt narrowly missed frying me (but not the Spirit Shaman). By now, I had deduced the location of the trigger, but all attempts to disable it came to no avail.

Perhaps, like most traps, there would be a disabling switch on the other side? I hatched an ingenious scheme; My party members would hold the other end of a rope tied around my waist. I would leap over the trap into the darkness beyond. If I screamed, they were to reel me back in as quickly as possible.

As most of you are guessing, this did not end well. I stepped up to the trap, took a deep breath, and leapt over it into an unseen waiting mob of dagger wielding imps. Screaming in an octave I had never reached before, I was wrenched back as my teammates pulled on the rope as hard as they could. Naturally, I landed ass-first on top of the trigger tile, causing another bolt to fill the hall (somehow narrowly avoiding me and the stabby imps but not my teammates). I was dragged all the way back, dirtying my favorite tunic and getting severe rug burns.

Now, this was war. We had not come this far into the dungeon to be stopped by a simple hazard. I hefted my trusty sledgehammer like Thor and vowed revenge. My teammates were to repeat Plan X while I ran up and smashed the trigger. In retrospect, brute force is never a good way to disarm traps. The lightning began to trigger nonstop. I was dragged back as a literal wall of electricity filled the corridor. I think the exact words of my rogue at the time were "HUOARGH!!!!"

And on top of that, I was hungry.

Somehow, my superior rogue Matrix© moves had carried me through without even a speck of damage. On the other hand, my charred and blackened teammates had a few choice words for me... which they would have said were they not laughing so hard they were crying. Things had gone ridiculously bad. Somehow, with only fifty feet of rope and a sledge hammer, I had darned the party to heck. Our way was now blocked by an impenetrable wall of coursing lightning which showed no signs of stopping. Their health was next to nothing. My rope had been torched. And on top of that, I was hungry.

Did we call it a day and head to town? Did we camp and wait the trap out? No! We were morons! We took a stone door off of its hinges and used it as a crude barrier to block the lightning as we pushed our way through. What was the moral of this fairly long story? Level one adventures should never be filler. Ever. You should always strive to make them some of the most interesting and exciting sessions possible, talked about and referred to for weeks on end into the future... That, and my teammates say I am no longer allowed to lead the party. Something about "responsibility" and "too much lightning".

The problem with level 1 characters, is that a lot of gaming systems aren't designed for the them to be played for more than a fairly short period of time. In many game systems, they lack the ability to take more than one good hit. With some gaming systems, they can be knocked unconscious after being hit on the head by an elderly lady's umbrella. Then there is the problem of enemies. There usually aren't very many pre-made statistics for enemies appropiate for level 1 characters, which means you will need to 'cut down' the npcs you want to lose - and run the risk you won't cut quite enough considering the fragility of most level 1 characters. On the other hand, I would agree that low-level campaigns can be the most fun. PCs still lack the brute power to simply bulldozer their way through obstacles. They haven't yet developed that finely tuned sense of exactly what their characters can handle and what is likely to turn them into stylish wall decorations for the local necromancer or a sit-down dinner for a small goblin horde.

The fact that the bard is listed along with other expendable items worries me.

I completely agree that staying-power is the problem with 1st-level characters. The d20 and similar systems are designed primarily as action-adventure games, but aren't designed to let 1st-level character survive much action or adventure, unlike systems created from the ground up to capture the flavor of cinematic action most players fantasize about.

d20 starts out player characters as ordinary, vulnerable mortals, just as fragile and death-prone as anyone else, then quickly jacks them up into heroes if they can survive for a bit. Even a mere second level character is twice as hardy as a first-level character. By tenth level, any PC is powerful enough to take on hordes of first-level normals single-handed -- effectively a super-hero.

Compare and contrast with the old West End "Star Wars" game. Player characters start out significantly above average, and with certain built-in perks that allow them to survive tough situations. From the moment they're created, they are "heroes", suited to a life of rough and tumble. From there they do become more and more powerful, of course, but with a much steeper progression curve than d20 characters.

Comparing the two experience systems is apples-to-oranges, but just as a guesstimate, I'd say that the progression curves meet at about the time a d20 character would reach 4th-level, after which he would leave the old Star Wars characters in the dust.

Even worse for D&D in specific -- and what seems to be the real crux of the article -- is the accumulating magic-item problem. Gygax himself railed against it even as he was making it an institution with the earliest 1st-edition adventures. Hard as it is to find a pre-published D&D adventure that doesn't try to load the PCs down with magical goodies, it's even harder to find one that doesn't assume PCs get loaded down with magical goodies as they adventure. You want a low-magic-item campaign, you almost have to write every adventure yourself.

So for my money, the problem isn't so much with the level of the characters, but with the game system. Even the seasoned jedi in my last Star Wars campaign had to constantly scramble just to stay one step ahead of catastrophe.

If you are lucky enough to have a really good DM, then the storyline is written well enough that the party doesn't need a cart full of magic items. Having more advanced players helps, too.

I have never been a big fan of magical items, and after a few years of Living City at cons, I started making my own "certs" for them. Most of them have limited charges now, after which they are duds. From a player's perspective, it is nice to have something in your back pocket for an emergency... but sometimes it's hard to determine just what constitutes one. =)

But getting to the point of this article, playing first (or low) level PCs does have it's inherent challenges of low hit points and lack of funds for heavy armors. Unfortunately, too many times I've seen players act like high level PCs when playing lower ones, and then the DM just makes things more difficult for which the PCs, on paper, just can't handle. Characters die, and everyone gets ticked off. If the players can keep from using information or knowledge from previous games from clouding their naive PCs view of the game world, then sure, it works.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

I have to agree with Old Timer's comments re: player experience and knowledge.

As a player, I know my PC doesn't know what I know. He doesn't know the CR of that monster. He doesn't have a little meter telling him how many HP he has left. He doesn't know how many charges are left on that wand, unless he's been carving notches into it every time he uses it.

If players just keep these things in mind, playing a 15th-level character can be just as challenging as playing a 1st-level PC, IMHO.

On that note, a friend of mine says he once had a GM who always contrived to kill off the PCs by the time they reached 3rd level, because he thought anything above 3rd level was too powerful!!

Thanks, bluegirl.

Third level too powerful? Sheesh. I feel sorry for that mage with his awesomely strong 2nd Magic Missile-- what a spell to have to unbalance a game! hehe

With our "older and advanced" group (read: still mired in 2nd Ed AD&D since it came out), many times our storylines and campaigns become so involved, that a lot of playing time is spent actually (dare I say it?) role-playing. Hmmm Imagine that. This is where I feel that the newer 3rd Edition starts to fall apart in the complexity of its game mechanics, but I digress....

Back to the point: playing first (or low) level characters can offer players more role-playing than "roll-playing" since they must often find other means to overcome obstacles rather than using brute force and taking the damage (like the article's example of ingenuity with the stone door... great idea!). When surrounded by bandits on the trail, it's sometimes easier to talk your way through it than to gamble on one, simple d6 arrow maybe not killing you.

But, that's just my $0.02 worth.

I agree. No party memeber is less expendable than the bard!

Hey, Draz:

How much experience do you have playing in skills-based systems (such as GURPS, he asked, sounding like an old and broken record) as opposed to class-and-level-based systems such as d20 and the earlier editions of D&D?

In my experience, it's a lot easier to hang on to that good old first-level feeling in a system where your characters never gain additional hit points.

That being said, the key is to limit the XP and treasure doled out in your campaigns. I've gotten stingier with magic items, and I feel that it's done good things for my campaigns. Furthermore, the DMG has an excellent section on alternative XP award schemes - it's a good read, and it's all-important for DMs who want to keep the power levels of their PCs under control.

Very little experience playing GURPS. Around these parts it's seen as something of a dinosaur: dead and probably better left in a museum. Which is a shame. Perhaps that will turn around when the new basic set is released and the system gets a face lift.

Well, the main problem with GURPS is that it does not have color pictures *lol* *snickers*
I've had plenty of experience with GURPS and some with D20, and can thus compare - certainly, a 100pt GURPS character is more playable than a level one DnD chap. An arrow hitting the GURPS character is unlikely to kill outright, but quite likely to incapacitate, unless he is armored of course. Meanwhile, many D20 lvl1 characters will drop due to a single crossbow bolt.
Enought theory though, I'd advise that to enhance the lvl1 feel, use the skill-based systems like WoD and GURPS - while the characters can become more versatile, they have a hard time becoming able to steamroller everything (unless of course the ST allows his vampires to diablerize every kindred they come across, but that is a different matter). Likewise, Shadowrun characters must be constantly watching out for danger, because yes, a single bullet can kill, but the objective is not to survive the bullet, but rather not be hit or not be shot at at all.

I agree with EchoMirage on his last statement. Too many times, players have an air of invulnerability, and just wade through whatever, accepting the damage that they know they can handle on paper. Not very "real", IMHO.

True, one should be able to know what one can/cannot handle (I certainly wouldn't be a pro football player-- no way I could deal with the pounding), but some threats should be very real, regardless of "level" or "hit points". Critical hits take some of this into account, but in my experience, the chances of a critical hit actually doing enough damage to worry a player are slim.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

Eh...really, it comes down to the exact same thing that all questions seem to come down to: what are the needs of the game?

If it's a big epic plot, then it seems kind of foolish for the characters to have to worry about going up against a bunch of kobolds. World-savers and epic heroes need higher levels and greater power, because that's the stuff of legends. Of course, that is directly related to the fact that epic heroes generally aren't supposed to be slowed overmuch by the mundane details ("and yea, Sir Everamus the Great did slay enemies by the score, but went home when the lich locked the door" is just stupid).

Well sure. But when you save the world every other week, it gets a little tedious. Furthermore, it gets a little divorced from reality when all mundane problems can be solved easily due to insane amounts of loot or skill points or suchlike. And, when you get down to it, it's extremely difficult to play uberpowerful characters as intriguing personalities. Characterization rests primarily in reaction to problems, especially small mundane ones (if there's only one way to solve a puzzle, then there's no real characterization...but mundane issues are much more modular). The more powerful the characters are, the more difficult it becomes to give them a problem that requires characterization.

-Quick aside: this is more true in games than in literature: the royal family of Amber is well characterized and superpowerful. However, I think that this is only possible because Zelazny is in charge of both the characters and what they have to react with. -End Aside.

Also, the smaller and more mundane tools available to lower level characters provide a lot more of a chance to be clever. This is less of an issue, though, because characters of all levels can come up with fantastic stories to lure opponents away, etc...but there's a lot more drama and intrigue in a character wedging his signet ring in a crack in the wall to show where he went than in him casting telepathy and keeping in touch with his party.

-Character driven games: usually work best at level no higher than 10, unless the GM specifically has the levels be irrelevant and has the living legends chat and discuss philosophy a lot (I had a GM do this, you see, and he showed that powerful character can be the focus of the game...but I digress yet again).
-Games fueled by player cleverness: can work anywhere. People get more of a charge out of using lesser items creatively than greater artifacts, though.
-Games fueled by a powerful plot: usually better at higher levels.
-One-shot games: high level characters have more possibilities for making the game memorable and interesting.

Just my ramblings on the subject.

Never underestimate the value of ah, quirky magic items. Don't dole out a +2 longsword, dole out a magic longsword that is +4 in some very specific circumstances, and is otherwise merely masterwork, or maybe +1 in normal situations. Gives the players a cool toy^H^H^Htool, but reduces the likelihood that they will rampage through the baddies like butter. In fact, if you choose your quirks carefully, you can increase the depth with which they are actually playing their characters.

I have to agree with Draz, I like 1st level characters, but perhaps for different reasons. I love them because I have just meet a new friend. I love getting to know a new character, learning what his abilities are, understanding his personality. By the 6th or 7th level, I have grown bored with them. I know them in and out I am ready to meet a new friend. I am pretty lucky to have good GMs that understand my love of low level characters. As to survivablilty - Hackmaster delivers by giving all players, NPCs and monsters a 20hp kicker.

You get bored with your "new friend" by level 6 or 7, beowulf? Does that carry over to the real world?

*beowulf examines his PDA* "Well Joe, it's been swell, but it says here I've known you for 6 months exactly. I think it's time we see other friends. It's not you, it's me... don't bother to call or write."

Seems like a strange way to do things, heh

They say a man can only be alone for so long before the man's mind is gone.

I'm all for low-level campaigns, myself. I think, and it's been said here a bit as well, that if you've got players who are getting lost in their powers and no longer trying creative solutions that you can try them with first-level characters and watch them remember why they started playing in the first place.

LOL @ Shaggy

Not I keep "real" friends around a lot longer, but I have much fewer of them.

In my (somewhat limited) experience, higher level characters can have plenty of challenges and character depth, as long as they do more than hack and slash. In the d20 system, combat can get a little weird at high levels, as everyone involved tends to be very hard to kill. Yeah, ok, whatever, as a GM, I just try to avoid situations were combat is a likely result. For example, in an Urban Arcana game I'm running, the PC's just got to 4th level, so from now on, fighting their opposition physically will rarely be the best (or even an available) solution. They'll actually have to think and use their skills. In game, they've gone from the status of "expendable asset" to "full agent" in their organization, so their assignments will be of a different type. No more "kill the bugbears" or "beat up the cultists", but more negotiating, stealth and intrigue. Sure, they'll still get in the occasional brawl, but far less often than before.

All in all, to prevent powerful characters from stomping over everything, don't put them in combat situations. And if their skills are through the roof, just have them be opposed to and NPC's through the roof skills. It balances out (usually).

And beowulf, you get tired of characters at lv. 6? Wow. In my mind, 6th level characters are just beginning to see the world.

I agree with the fact that a level one character would not be aware of his/her own capabilities, which leads to a surprising lack of opportunities that the DM can exploit. Now, try making the level one to a level 3. This adds another feat and some special abilities. It also allows more spells, rage, etc. The 3rd level allows the same creatures to be use, albeit en masse, with more creatures to boot. This also allows more opportunities. The "Wall Theory" still applies, as the characters still need to strive to do what is needed, with the exception that the characters are more varied and specialized. A level one rogue is not much different than a level one fighter eith high dexterity, they have not progressed enough to show a big difference in skill. Now allow for a higher reflex save, more ranks in climb, etc, and you have a varied and well-adjustable party for any situation and still have to ponder how the hell the buttered wall will be scaled.

I hear you buddy, I used to be the same way, although my characters topped out at 8th or 9th level.

It sounds like the problem is more because of the game system that you are using than because of anything else. Any level based system will have the problem of too much power when the characters start advancing. Try a point based system instead.

I play GURPS which is a point based system. You start with a 100 point character (about 1st level) and every session you get 1 to 5 experience points to improve your character. If you want to keep the characters low powered than give them 1 to 3 points a session instead. The best part of this is that GURPS is a skill based system as well. There is a BIG difference between a beginner and a expert swordsman in skill and in points needed to attain that skill in GURPS. Not only that, but the points don't all go to fighting skills. GURPS uses skills like Diplomacy, Stealth, Body Language, Surgery, Psionics, Magic, Acrobatics, and a host other stuff. You also have to spend points on Attributes and Advantages as well which reduces the amount of points that can be spent on skills.

Of course, you'll still find those players that find a way to max out a characters fighting ability. In GURPS that will help the character stay alive, but the experience points are given for roleplaying well, not for killing things. Thus, the max-out fighter will not be the most powerful character for long.

A high point character can die just as easily as a low point one. You don't become Superman just because you've been around longer. Thus the suspense is still very much part of the game when your character has to get over that thirty foot wall with the entire theive's guild after them.

Another thing that helps is restriction magic items. Limit the amount and type of magic items that the character gets during the course of the campaign. A 20th level fighter is still going to have a problem getting over (or through) that wall without magical help. Of course, in D&D a 20th level fighter wouldn't have to run from a theive's guild...

IS this long enough?

I better stop while I'm ahead...

"It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."

I don't like GURPS because it's such a nightmare to GM. I just don't have time for the "overhead"... the time spent preparing for a game.

Oh, and here's a shocker, Calamar... DnD doesn't give XP for killing stuff.

GURPS is as simple as you, the GM, wants it to be. I don't know what you mean about "overhead". Do you mean taking the time to learn a new system and then teaching that system to your players? Would you rather stay with a crappy system instead? There is a reason that I don't play D&D anymore. I grew up and matured both as a gamer and a person. I outgrew the game that started it all.

I have played and GM'ed over fourteen different game systems since I started playing, well over a decade ago. I've played everything from D&D to TMNT, to MERPS, to Rifts, to Star Wars, to GURPS. The only game that I ever found to be too complicated to play was a game called Time Lords.

Maybe by "overhead" you mean time spent preparing for a game, period. If that is the case then you shouldn't be running a game at all. Let someone else who DOES have the time run the game. I'm sure everyone involved will be much happier.

"time spent preparing for a game"... I have a full time job, a part time job and my wife works part time. We have two young kids (under the age of 5) and we don't believe in other people raising our children for us (thus no babysitters). I still have time to learn new games, new systems, and still write and run intricate and well crafted games for my group.
I run three groups, about once a week each. There's always enough time.

Before you get too defensive and start going off on all of the advancements that D&D has incorporated into the D20 system, yes I have played it and no I don't like it.

The drawbacks to D&D have nothing to do with how complicated it is or how many different kinds of dice you have to use. Or even the constant changes to the rules and the contradicting information the keeps coming out.

The problems that I have with the game are the limits placed on character creation, combat, and experience.

D&D DOES reward your characters simply for the amount of creatures that you kill. I know that your mage can get experience for casting a spell and that your thief can get experience for picking someone's pocket, but your character can't get any real experience unless you kill something.

If you don't believe me then try it for yourself. If you take a character and play through a standard adventure without killing anything and then take a copy of that character and play the same adventure, only this time slaughtering everything that comes your way, you'll find that the second character gets a LOT more experience points (not to mention booty).

Whew! Another long one. Well, I'm here all night folks. Have a happy turkey day!

"The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very very badly."

"Maybe by "overhead" you mean time spent preparing for a game, period. If that is the case then you shouldn't be running a game at all. Let someone else who DOES have the time run the game. I'm sure everyone involved will be much happier."

What I mean by "overhead" IS, in fact, the time spent preparing for a game. It has to do with the fact that because GURPS characters of any particular point value can have HUGELY divergent capabilities in terms of combat, stealth, magic (or psionics or superpowers or whatever), and social skills, that it takes a LOT longer to write up an adventure for them. There's a reason why you don't see prepublished adventures for GURPS; there's no point. Every adventure has to be carefully tailored to the adventurers.
This is also true in Hero system (used to be called Champions) though to a somewhat less extreme degree. In the three years that I ran GURPS games, I found it very difficult to avoid the cakewalk on one side and the brick wall on the other. The level of satisfaction that I and my players got from the game, as a result, was lessened significantly.

For most other game systems, it's not nearly as much of an issue. Picking (or building) challenges for a DnD party is pretty simple. In WoD (at least in the old version) since the combat system was so simple, it was easy to do a "test run" of a combat and see what was likely to happen. In my favorite game, "Primetime Adventures", there's no GM overhead at all. Since the game is created ENTIRELY at the table, there's no prepwork to be done at all.

You don't know me from Adam. Telling me I shouldn't be running a game is a direct insult and I feel that I am owed an apology for it.

You said, "D&D DOES reward your characters simply for the amount of creatures that you kill."

Just plain wrong, Calamar, just plain wrong.

There's nothing in the 3e rules about killing monsters to gain experience. In fact, the rules specifically state that if a monster (or other obstacle) is bypassed by some other means, such as sneaking past it, convincing it that it is better off not fighting, or subduing it, then the party gets the same experience as if it had been defeated in combat.

In the example you give, if a rogue character were to successfully sneak past all of the challenges and achieve the goal for the adventure, then he gets exactly the same experience total as the fighter that slaughters them all.

In a particularly telling sentence, you said, "I know that your mage can get experience for casting a spell and that your thief can get experience for picking someone's pocket..."

The rules for gaining experience for casting spells and using skills are a relic of 2e. You might consider reading and understanding the rules for a game before you criticize it.

You claim to have played it, so I can only assume that what you played was a 2e/3e hybrid run by someone who didn't like some of the 3e changes and so had not implemented them.

Guess I pissed you off a bit... Don't worry Vaxalon, I wasn't picking on you in particular. I feel that if the players are going to come over week after week, devoting hours and hours to your game, both during and after each session, then the GM is obligated to giving those dedicated players the best game possible. This means crafting a story that fits the players, their characters, the world, and the Game Master. It takes time and effort.

As for my comment "If that is the case then you shouldn't be running a game at all. Let someone else who DOES have the time run the game. I'm sure everyone involved will be much happier." This isn't an attack on you or an insult directed at you personally. It is what I firmly believe. If you, meaning the GM, don't have the time to design and craft the campaign then you should let someone else who DOES have the time fill in as GM. Not only will the game improve as a result, but you will get the chance to actually get some playing time in instead of always running the game.

BTW GURPS does have prepublished adventures. Not a lot of them, true, but the ones that they do have (Fantasy Adventures, Martial Arts Adventures, Time Travel Adventures, ETC.) are better written than any other game system that I've ever read. The reason that GURPS doesn't publish more adventures is that Steve Jackson, the owner and creator of GURPS, made the game to cater to the creative GM. You know, the GM who designs their own worlds, cultures, races, and people. The GM who can't stand the Monty Haul adventures that other companies throw out. The Gms who are willing to put in a little time and effort into their games...

"GURPS characters of any particular point value can have HUGELY divergent capabilities in terms of combat, stealth, magic (or psionics or superpowers or whatever), and social skills, that it takes a LOT longer to write up an adventure for them."

This sounds more like laziness than anything else. All the GM has to do here is set reasonable limits during character creation. Don't let a character start off as a psionicist or mage if they grew up in a farming village. You're right though, even a bunch of fighters with the same point value will be very diverse in their skills and capabilities. This is where the true art of running a game comes into play. The GM must know their players and the characters. If you know them you will find that creating adventures and campaigns is a simple process. You will have an understanding of what they are capable of in terms of combat and skills. This isn't system specific either. All GM's should know this. No matter how well you know your players and their characters though, they will always surprise you. This is where the other half of being a good GM comes into play. Adapt to the situation and deal with whatever you players have done. It's not hard. But then, I have enough creativity and experience to handle inventive players with characters who have more than the standard cardboard cutout skill set...

As for 3rd ed. You're absolutely right. I haven't played more than a dozen sessions of the D20 3rd ed. Why? Because the combat blows. What you seem to like (unthinking simplicity) means to me a lack of detail and options. It's like watching a Chuck Norris movie when you could be watching Jackie Chan instead. Why settle for less?

I did GM D20 Star Wars, but my players got so frustrated by the limits set on combat and characters by the game system that we scrapped it and went back to GURPS.

"Some people dream of success while others live to crush those dreams."

some comments:

first of all, you too, make nice and be friends :).

second, regarding pre-made adventures.
comparing the "overhead" time needed to prepare adventures for D20 and GURPS is like comparing off-the-shelf clothes with tailor-made ones. Sure, we would all like custom made suit made to our specifications, and if the GM, err..tailor has the time to measure, cut, sew and all and so on, that's great.Most of us, however, don't have the time, the skills or the inclination (or in my case, all three) to do that, and would like high quality ready-made clothes.
in that, GURPS can't help you.

and on a completely different note: IMHO, GURPS SPACE is the best RPG supplument i've encountered, EVER.

It may SOUND like laziness to you, Calamar, but what it comes down to is priorities.

I can't tell my son that I can't go to his parent's night at school, because I'm still not done preparing for the game session. It was the game session after that dilemma was presented to me that I decided to drop GURPS from my game library.

Calamar, I knew my players and their characters, I had copies of them handy. I did NOT find creating adventures for them to be a simple process; I found it, as I said before, highly time-consuming.

Unlike you, I ran your favorite game system for years before rejecting it. You played it a handful of times, and rejected it because the system didn't spoon-feed you all the options you wanted to have available to you.

Pray tell, give me an example of a limit that is set on combat in DnD that doesn't exist in GURPS? What did you want to be able to do that you couldn't? I'll wager that the failure was not in the rules, but in either your understanding of them, or of your ability to use them to encompass the idea.

Thanks for your agreement.

I'll have to agree with this.

I know my players pretty well, but that doesn't mean I can churn out games like clock-work for them. Without fail...the better games we play are the ones that I spent several hours of prep time on. Games where I only spend 5 minutes on the design tend to drag or just taste flat.

In fact...knowning my players as well as I do proves to be more challenging...because I don't want to design a game that they'll find boring. Once the bar has been set, it has to be raised again...otherwise, you fall into stagnation.

One of my players is a kensai (sword-dude). The rules of the charcter are that he must duel another kensai every so often in order to prove his marital skills. Okay...well, after a few levels, that starts to get old...so I have to (hopefully) come up with new ways to make his duels more interesting...and I can't rely on the same tricks as before.


Kensai sounds like a pretty neat character. Any chance you could send me some info on them?

As for time spent preparing a game... I spend an average of 10 minutes a day directly working on the current campaign. However, while going about my everyday business with my family and work, especially while driving to and from work (I have a long commute) and think about the game. I suppliment this thinking with whatever movies, books, and interesting websites that I can find. It seems to work, I never seem to run out of fresh ideas for very long.

Of course a lot of people have told me that I'm... different...

"He who angers you conquers you."

I don't have any electronic kensai data handy...

...and, heads up, the kensai character class is from the Oriental Adventures supplement from 1st Edition (published in 86, or thereabouts).

If I get my hands on a scanner (I know...I'm an electronic visigoth), I'll scan the page and zap it to ya.

Thanks. I'll talk to my friends and check some used store for oriental adventures. I can't imagine it being more than a buck or two...

I've never really had the problem that several of you have stated. I don't (usually) keep copies of the characters past three sessions or so, by then I pretty much have them memorized. As for the players themselves... I KNOW them. One group that I run consists of my wife, her sister and husband, and their son. I know that my wife likes playing a woman who can throw down when needed, doesn't bother being polite, and who wants an ongoing ramantic love interest. My sister in-law wants to play a pretty mage, preferably noble borne, who is innocent but not naive. My brother in-law wants to kill things. My nephew is still learning how to play, he just wants to be included.

When I start a game, all I really need are the characters (and their background stories, Gamerchick has an excellent article on background stories if you're interested) and a starting point. The characters actions (and background) tend to lead to plot developements and twists. I add in other ideas as they come to me. Pretty soon I have a plotline. I think of neat things to do when I have free time and add that to the game as well. I very rarely need to write things down and when I do, it doesn't take me long. I carry a small notebook and a pen to jot down notes when I get an idea that I want to extrapolate on later.

The point is, I don't spend hours working on my campaigns, it just seems that way. Planning or playing a game will never be in competition with my family time.

I guess that I'm either weird or special... my players say that I'm weird. I tend to agree... ;-)

"For every winner there are dozens of losers, odds are you are one of them."

>>Pray tell, give me an example of a limit that is set on combat in DnD that doesn't exist in GURPS? >>

Well, the immediate one that comes to mind are the Active defenses (Parry, feint, riposte, ect). Since d20 utilizes a flat "Defense" score, such manuevers are not possible without majorly overhauling one of the core mechanics (and why do that when there is a perfectly good rule system that already does it?).

As for GURPS "overhead" - I don't see it. I've been running GURPS for years and it requires no more prep time than any other game system I've run, and in the past 23 years I've run alot of them.

Where GURPS shines over d20 is actual playtime and execution: it runs smoother, faster, and allows for more elaborate combats without slowing things down. Less handling time = more game time. For those of us with little time to game in to begin with, that's a life saver.

Defense is not "Flat" in DnD. You have several maneuvers that are available to everyone in DnD, "fight defensively" and "full defense", and the "combat expertise" feat which allows those options to be used more skillfully. Parrying, in the default mechanic, falls under these options.

If you want parrying to be something more overtly handled by mechanics, there is a simple set of rules in a recent Dragon magazine that brings it out and develops it further. No overhaul needed... it fits on a single page.

Feinting, while it isn't a defense, exists in DnD. It falls under the "bluff" skill, and a successful use deprives the victim of some of his defenses.

Oh, and a riposte, by the way, is not a defense. It's an attack that comes after a defense.

Less handling time? Not true. There's at least a 50% increase in handling time, because of the addition of the defense roll. The basic mechanic of D20 is roll to hit, roll damage. The basic mechanic of GURPS combat is roll to hit, roll defense, roll damage. Add in things like hit locations and HT checks for things like head hits, and it goes even higher than 50%.

I've played GURPS for years, as well, and GURPS does NOT run smoother, or faster, and "elaborate" is a synonym for "complicated."

>>Defense is not "Flat" in DnD. You have several maneuvers that are available to everyone in DnD, "fight defensively" and "full defense", and the "combat expertise" feat which allows those options to be used more skillfully<<

None of which are active defenses. That's all passive defense. d20 abstracts things like parrys and feints into the defense score with the assumption that the defender is always going to be doing those sorts of things whenever they are attacked. That means there is no ACTIVE defense in d20.

>>Less handling time? Not true. There's at least a 50% increase in handling time, because of the addition of the defense roll. The basic mechanic of D20 is roll to hit, roll damage. The basic mechanic of GURPS combat is roll to hit, roll defense, roll damage.<<

Until you add in things like Attacks of Opportunity, Cleave and Great Cleave, Flurry of Blows, plus Circumstance modifiers, ect. d20 quickly bogs down.

>>I've played GURPS for years, as well, and GURPS does NOT run smoother, or faster, and "elaborate" is a synonym for "complicated."<<

My experience is the exact opposite. D&D involves far more situational modifiers, far more necessity for precision about location of the combatants (to handle Attacks of Opportunity, which drive the handling time WAAAAY up).

GURPS' core mechanic, however, is easy: both combatants roll 3d6, results are compared to respective skills, damage is rolled if attack succeeds. While there may be some modifiers, there aren't any more than there are in d20, and the whole mess of AOO and the like don't slow things down.

and by "elaborate", I meant "imaginative" not "complicated". d20 does not encourage anything beyond metagaming combat out (I use All Out Attack!) rather than describing what you do (I spin kick him to the head!). More descriptive combat with less handling time = teh win!

Silly me, I thought that since you used the word "elaborate" you meant "elaborate".

Descriptive combat isn't an aspect of rules, it's an aspect of the game. There's nothing in GURPS that causes players to magically choose descriptive combat.

"Spin kick to the head!" is descriptive the first time it's used... but if that's the only way the player uses to describe that particular maneuver, it's not imagination.

GURPS does, indeed have circumstance modifiers... just as much as DND does. DnD just has an organized system for handling them, so it seems more elaborate.

Precision of placement is pretty much the same between GURPS and DnD. GURPS uses one-meter hexes, DND uses five-foot squares... in fact, one could easily argue that GURPS is even MORE precise than DND. You can play GURPS without the hexes, just like you can play DND without the squares.

And I have noticed that you have abandoned your position that GURPS allows you to do things that DnD prevents.

For pure ROLE playing, the level system gets in the way. I hear people say it gives the players "goals" and "something to shoot for" but rather have them shooting for goals like defeating the enemy or solving the mystery, not leveling up. I did a crazy experiment that worked. For fun we had been playing the original marvel super heros game. It was shallow, but quick fast and easy. I ended up filling a notebook with optional rules for this basic game, rules for buying skills, firearms, lethal combat, healing, mostly by reading gurps for ideas but not using there numbers.
Finally my "game system" was sprung upon a group of players.
The awesome thing was, since no one knew the system inside and out, it prevented any sort of rules lawyer stuff. If I presented an enemy or problem, players started to ask questions in a much more natural way then in the mainstream games they knew. What do I need to roll to hit(followed by eyes rolling up inot head for a quick AC vs Skill calculation.) became "is he wearing armor? do I think I can take him? does he look strong, can I tell if he's stronger than me? I'll shoot him as many times as I can this turn, I don't want him to get his hands on me!!!
The way I did combat really flipped them out too, but they loved it. In the orginal marvel, you don't role for damage, attacks have set damage, a punch does (STR), a 9mm does(10), melle weapon is (str+dmg). I integrated damage into the to-hit roll, good rolls give you *1 *2 *3 1/2 damage or whatever. The target saves verse damage which can decrease or negate the damage. Plus your saving throw determines effects from the attack, a wound that drains hit-point per turn (ie bleeding out) shock, stun, stat reduction, knockdown, nothing, all sorts of things, it made every battle scary, a lucky stab from a kobold could have you bled to death in a matter of rounds while lucky rolls could cause a target absorb multiple gunshots and keep going. Every combat round was quick and very exciting.
(bleeding out and stun effects turned combat into absolute mayhem. One player was stunned for d10 rounds from a being shot. He came to, sat up, and saw his enemy sprawled against a nearby wall.
GM- He looks mortally wounded, pale, in a pool of blood, but he's fumbling, trying to get another magazine in to his pistol.
Player- I shoot him!
GM- Your pistol is next to you on the ground.
Player- Can I shoot before he reloads??
GM- Roll with me, you get +2, but its gonna be close.)

A few nights of this stuff and levels and thaco and whatever were totally forgotten.


You say this as if playing with the rules in front of everyone (rather than just under the control of the DM) is inferior.

Also, after a period of time, the players will start to absorb the rules. They'll know what kind of bonuses they get for particular kinds of actions, etc... and then you're back where you started.

People should keep in mind that this kind of play will alienate some players.

"Meanwhile, many D20 lvl1 characters will drop due to a single crossbow bolt."

Been there, and I think that this is a flaw in the D & D game, with regards to 1lvl characters. A Mage at d4??? Which meant the Mage is always sandwiched between a fighter class (basically using them as living shields) until such time that the Mage can advance enough levels to use 'really cool' spells.
I supposed if they start out as kids, it would make sense...


Pray tell, give me an example of a limit that is set on combat in DnD that doesn't exist in GURPS? What did you want to be able to do that you couldn't?

I'll give you one that came up for me quite frequently when my brother, a die-hard GURPS player, came to join our D&D sessions: attack a specific part of the body because of its weakness. "Go for the eyes, Boo, GO FOR THE EYES!" Disable a hand. Hit 'em in the foot. Go for a critical strike by skill rather than luck. That sort of thing. He gave up on D&D after a while because it wouldn't let him do that.

Here's another: improve your to-hit chance by aiming. D&D won't let you do that, either.

Now, I'm talking about the Core rules. You can say that patches to d20 exist in supplemental books (e.g., the Complete Adventurer) or some issue of Dragon Magazine, but I don't think that serves your point much. Parries exist in the core rules of GURPS; they don't in D&D.


Now, I haven't played nearly as much GURPS as you have, Vaxalon. I've mostly been restricted to writing up worldbooks for it that never get used, because the majority of my players won't budge from d20. But I've played an awful lot of D&D in all its various incarnations, and I'd much rather be playing GURPS. Could be "the grass is greener" phenomenon, but I don't think so.

I'll agree with you when you say GURPS combats increase handling time over d20 ones...usually. An experienced group might learn to run through GURPS combats efficiently, whereas my current d20 group still takes forever to get through a fight despite the fact that the system is simple and logical and we all know it pretty well.

However, I think GURPS has a number of mechanical advantages over D&D.

The realism of the wound system is a huge one.

The way armor works is another (though I understand Passive Defense can be a really annoying mechanic sometimes).

But, second verse, same as the first (because it's something I say a lot), combats can be tenser in GURPS for experienced characters than they are in d20. The reason for this is that despite the inevitability of the 3d6 dice combat rolls and their bell-curve results, a good hit with a longsword to a 200-pt. GURPS character can kill him just as easily as it could when he was 100 pts. A good hit to a 4th level fighter with a longsword in d20 doesn't have the impact that the same hit had when he was 2nd level, and by the time he's 8th level it's hardly much of a cause for concern. Know what I mean?

Finally, the flat 5% chance of automatic failure or success mechanic in d20 grates on my nerves more often than I'd like. I've patched this problem with "Hero Points," a variation on the Force Points used by d20 Star Wars.

And d20 has made me patch it a good deal. Don't get me wrong; on the whole, it's a thing of beauty. But it has its warts.

GURPS used to make me patch it a lot, too, but with the release of 4th edition, 90% of my old complaints have been resolved.