Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: Basic Set - Campaigns

The other half of the
Basic Set.
Well, I reviewed the Characters book yesterday, so just for completeness sake, let's review the Campaign book. The Characters book for me sees a lot more use, but there are a few critical chapters in Campaigns. It probably depends on what type of game you are running, but each chapter, or sometimes, down to the section level, is something you either need or don't need, so again like with the Basic Set - Characters review, I will highlight specifically the sections and areas that new players and GMs will probably find interesting, with everything else saved for a rainy day, or when you specifically have a campaign where that element matters.


Page 1 of the table of contents
This book... has a pretty confusing pagecount because its numbering starts where Character's numbering ends. The first page of anything that constitutes pure content is page 342, and the last page is 576, or about 235 pages. Subtracting the index, glossary, and ludography, we have 221 pages left. The first chapter which covers many important usages of dice, is 20 pages long. The next 23 page covers all the rules of standard combat, and then there is a 10 page chapter on tactical combat. The next chapter covers special edge cases in combat, and is 26 pages long, kinda like a "miscellaneous" that is useful, but doesn't mix well with either of the previous two. We then have a 28 page talking about all the ways we can get hurt, and an 11 page chapter on template design. Then we have 8 pages of data on monsters, and then 25 pages on objects and crafting. Chapter 18 is 20 pages of GMing advice, and chapter 19 is 19 pages on important details on creating a game universe. The final 25 page chapter is a guide to the "default" fictional setting for GURPS: Infinite Worlds.
Page Two
Illustrations and organization are good throughout the book. Pull-quotes could be more interesting though. The book is solidly in the mechanics quadrant, with a good helping of GM guidance, some content, and a whole chapter on fluff in the form of a designed setting.
Page Three
This book is pretty useful, but not absolutely essential. If it weren't for the section on afflictions, tactical combat, and the tables at the book, I probably wouldn't use it much at all. That said, I run a certain type of game where a lot of the content is either irrelevant, or a lot of it is superfluous, being different ways to do the same thing in a more/less mechanically dense manner depending on what is important for your game and brand of fun. I recommend this book to all but the most cash-strapped GMs, which should definitely put it on a wishlist for later, you might be able to get by with the usually cheaper and usually more focused second volume in a more specific GURPS line instead (Dungeon Fantasy, Action, Monster Hunters, After The End, etc.) that usually stand alone well enough that the Campaigns book is not wholly necessary, but still useful.

Success Rolls

This chapter is about rolling dice and all the things it means when you roll, succeed, or fail. It gives ideas for when to roll, and how to adjust the difficulty of a roll for difficult tasks, explains degrees of failure or success, as well as critical failures and success, quick contests and regular contests; all fundamental GURPS concepts. We then have a section on Physical Feats which describes detailed mechanics for things like Climbing, Digging, Hiking, etc. Some of these are unnecessarily complex, and should be looked at as options for when such a topic is the focus of a campaign. If a player wants to dig a latrine for example, it is not a good fun idea to assess equipment quality penalties, rate the soil quality, and calculate their digging speed in cubic feet an hour. Have them roll against something if success matters (there's a good chance it doesn't in the case of digging a latrine, just go p** or p**p somewhere else in the woods.) and eyeball it, and you are done. On the other hand, if you want to play "GURPS: Minecraft" and half of the content of your adventure is digging tunnels, you might care about the detailed digging mechanics. We have a similar detailed list of mechanics for sensory rolls, before we reach the (probably) more important section on Influence Rolls. We end with a table for Fright Checks, one of the important consequences of some failed Will Rolls.
I feel like the bit on physical activities, while helpful, feels a bit superfluous for this chapter, and mistakenly leads to thinking that some pretty in-depth mechanics are part of the fundamentals of GURPS. Besides that and the sensory rolls, the chapter is very good.
For fledgling GMs and players, probably the first section of the chapter is important, the section on contests, and the section on influence rolls, scan the rest especially if you think it might matter in your campaign.


This chapter has all the rules of "standard" combat, that is, combat that doesn't occur on a tactical grid. If combat matters to your game at all, this whole chapter is probably important. We have a section on turn order, allowed maneuvers, movement, attacking, separated into melee and ranged combat, then defending, injury, critical hits and failure in combat, and the "other" section.
This chapter is critical, and it does a good job explaining how to run combat by itself. I have no major criticism or praise, though I prefer the tactical system, explained in the next chapter, to the default system.
New players and GMs should read the section on turn sequence, and browse maneuvers. In terms of attacking, players should focus on the sections relevant to their characters (eg, a character that doesn't use guns or bows often can probably do without reading ranged combat,) and similarly, GMs can focus on what NPCs might do. Similar advice applies to defensive maneuvers. The section on damage and injury is very context dependent, and several of the rules are considered optional alternatives, so for example, skip the blurb on undead monsters and guns if you don't have any undead in your game, or if you aren't using damage modifiers. The section on damage rolls and damage resistance and penetration are fundamental for everyone though. Critical hits and misses are probably useful reading for everyone, and glancing through the other actions section, probably the bit on readying weapons and other gear is important as well.

Tactical Combat

This chapter discusses using a map for battling. I like it because it gives a substantial context to movement, which feels a bit wibbly wobbly for my taste otherwise. This chapter has some modifications and clarifications for rules in the previous chapter, but all together this chapter is optional.
I like this chapter, and I think it is illustrated very helpfully, I think it does a great job of explaining all the fundamentals and didn't leave me confused. The one big problem I have is that Close-Combat is hard to simulate on a grid in my opinion, because the figures don't fit in the space of one hexagon so easily, so I feel like it is necessary to use very small figures, a larger than normal grid, or remember when two guys are supposed to be in the same space.
If using Tactical Combat, I recommend new players look at this chapter first, and then go back to the previous chapter. Read about facing here, and then browse the maneuvers section, comparing it to the previous chapter. read the small section on movement, and the relevant bits on attacking (making sure to look at the relevant sections from the previous chapter as well.) 

Special Combat Situations

This chapter is a lot of interesting unique situations that don't apply to all combats. We have a section on sneak attacks, low visibility, high speed, mounts, hit locations, height advantage, size advantage, unusual weapons with special effects, guns malfunctioning, shotguns, high rate of fire weapons, accessories, explosions, afflictions, and we end with some special combat rules for "cinematic" games.
Organization is very good for this being a catch-all chapter, and everything is in it's rightful place. I urge new players to read almost everything here as optional and definitely not try applying all things at once.
I recommend everyone to scan through this section, paying attention to relevant headers, and if using special weapons, potentially paying attention to the special rules about one's weapons in particular. Players with fencing weapons ought to pay special attention to the pros and cons for them, for example. I think Hit Locations add a lot to a game, but they are optional and it is a lot to remember, so look at them if you want, or don't. A character heavily invested in wrestling abilities may want to read up on unarmed combat, and GMs should read the Cinematic Combat Rules page and see if any of those options catch their fancy.

Injuries, Illness, and Fatigue

The other side of the combat coin is injury, and related in theme is illness and fatigue. We start off talking about combat injuries, then go into recovery, the concept of fatigue, hazards which are a completely different way of being hurt, poisons, which are actually similar, but slightly different to hazards, Illness, almost again in the same category, and we end with aging.
The chapter is detailed and has a lot of helpful examples. In terms of organization, the one thing that feels out of order is recovery, which maybe should go all the way at the end, and the one that that feels out of place is aging, which while potentially being an important mechanic, doesn't feel like it belongs here. The section on Ultra-Tech Drugs on p.425 is very useful, but feels totally out of place.
For the newbie player and GM, the section on Injuries can be important if combat is very important for a given campaign, but understand that shock, major wounds, knockdown and stunning, bleeding, and crippling injuries are all on the table as optional. GMs should read through them and decide which sound good for the flavor of the campaign, and let players know which they don't like. For Recovery, everything through First Aid is probably useful, and most of the first page on Fatigue as well, up through Fatigue Costs, the rest being somewhat context dependent, so scan through the rest of the section, but only apply it if it is appropriate to the type of game being run. The section on afflictions under hazards can be especially useful in fantasy campaigns, but everything in this section is heavily context dependent. Scan through and see if you need or want it. Similar with Poisons, but if they exist at all, the section on delivery is probably important. Again with illness, and again with aging... it might not be important if you are playing a campaign that is not running for decades of game time.

Creating Templates

This is a pretty detailed look at making templates, a type of package of traits to give to players to define their characters faster. It covers ideas like what percentage of starting points should be tied up, considering the experience level of the audience, advice for optimization and a few of the special considerations that come with racial templates.
The chapter is straightforward and covers the material fine enough with several good examples. I find no flaws with it.
If a new GM wants to create templates for a campaign, read the section on character templates for professions, or racial templates for races, or both if both will be in play. Players don't really need to read this section at all.

Animals and Monsters

A chapter with a small index of realistic and fantasy creatures to interact with, and some stats to go with it. There are sections on training animals and conducting combat with animals as well.
This chapter is useful for benchmarks for creating new fantasy monsters or settings with transformation spells. The formatting is fine, and nothing stands out as an especial problem, though the animals could have had their point costs displayed which would help with shape shifting abilities.
This chapter can be skipped if you like, but feel free to browse the animals.

Technology and Artifacts

This chapter covers machines, vehicles, inventing, enchanting, etc. It starts with a very deep discussion of vehicles and their applications. It then goes into a section on electronics which really feels like it is phoning it in. After this we have the invention mechanics, which I personally feel like are not usable enough by themselves. We then have sci-fi, alien, and weird science technology. We then have a short section on the vanilla enchantment system which uses the default magic system. The chapter ends with a bit on damaging objects.
The electronics section feels like a space filler to me, and the invention rules, while pretty complex, feel insubstantial, and could use some better examples. Right now it feels a lot is left to guessing and rule of thumbing.
How useful this chapter is again very context dependent, vehicles might be important, and inventing, gadgeteering, or enchanting might be important to the right people. It's a short chapter though, so I recommend scanning it to see what catches your eye.

Game Mastering

This is a very soft advice heavy chapter that touches on all the concepts you might need to consider before hosting a game. It is overall really enjoyable and good food for thought, and should almost be the first chapter a GM reads... I guess after they know enough about the system for it to make sense. It should be read in whole, and then you can decide what deserves committing to memory, and what you don't agree with.

Game Worlds

A slightly "harder" complement to the previous chapter. Whereas the previous chapter dealt with logistics and keeping the game running well, this is about building a setting and the types of things that are good to define to help players find their niche in the world. In brief, it covers culture, language, law, etiquette, government, technology level, economics, jobs, hiring people, getting hired by people, and planes of existence.
The chapter is almost too detailed, but remember, everything is optional. The stuff on economics feels a bit out of place, but I don't know where better to put it without making a 3 page chapter. Some of the metrics given don't seem to have enough of a mechanical definition to give them meaning, specifically, legality class. What happens when Jane Doe has a gun with LC1 and she is using it to hunt for deer? I guess, as long as no one hears the explosions, nothing?
Unlike the previous chapter which I suggest GMs read in detail, this one should be scanned to know what you can find here, and keep it as a reference when designing a culture, country, or similar. The interesting section on Economics, I'd recommend that players at least scan it.

Infinite Worlds

This is a kitchen sink setting that demonstrates all the more detailed mechanics of GURPS: weird science, magic, planes shifting, time travelling, alternate dimensions, etc. It describes an organization ("Infinity") from the main reality ("Homeline") that goes on exploratory missions to other realities while dealing with the politics that come with being an expensive intergovernmental agency yielding a ton of power and responsibility. The setting describes some key players, key antagonists, technologies, and cultural sensibilities, and is kind of a framework for describing a setting (though with more detail than necessary) or integrating with the world by creating a planet/dimension/alternate universe in the same reality as Infinite Worlds, and deciding how one world interacts with the rest of existence. It includes some specific settings, some pleasant, some awful, and a few adventure seeds for getting into things on a macro or micro scale.
The chapter is amusing, but totally optional, peruse it at your pleasure, and decide if you want to make your own thing or not. I like reading about it personally, but have never played in the "setting," though, because of how it's set up, it wouldn't take almost any effort for any of my game worlds to exist in a game world that has slider powers.

Other Thoughts

The tables appendix is pretty useful. The campaign planning form and the NPC Record Card and Time Use Sheet feel pretty unusable though, but give some good inspiration for what you should track, albeit in a completely separate document. The book is over a decade old now, so a lot of the problems I have with it are pretty refined in expansions and supplements. Basic Set itself is still important, but each GURPS line has a pattern of making a book 1 that heavily corresponds to the Characters book, and a book 2 which heavily corresponds to the Campaigns book, these books usually have more on-point applications of the information from Basic Set and almost work by themselves (well the Campaign analog does, the Characters one usually depends heavily on the Characters book.) so you might be helped immensely by getting book 2 in a particularly fetching series and then referring to Campaigns as necessary. How to be a GURPS GM is also a good guide book for neophyte GMs that encapsulates a lot of lessons learned over the more than 10 years of 4th edition's existence.

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