GURPS Dwimmermount… With Zero Prep

Monday , 8, February 2016 1 Comment

I haven’t done any role-playing games with my son since… well, since that day he asked to play Gamma World first edition several months back. He loved the ACKS Player Companion when he saw it and rolled up a Gnomish Trickster, a Thrassian Gladiator, and a Priestess one time… but I never seemed to find the time to sit down and read up on those classes enough to where I felt like I could run a game with them. Then my son started getting into my GURPS books and ACKS was forgotten for a spell. I think he read Basic Set: Characters cover to cover a few times making notes on things he thought were cool. Then he spent a week working up a character.

This kind of irked me a little, I have to say. That much effort going into messing with a game without getting around to actually playing the game… you know, that’s just not how we do things at my house. But every time I offered to play, he insisted on Federation Commander instead. Eventually I’d had quite enough of this “not playing” thing. When we had time for a game, but not enough time for an epic space battle… I finally asked that he just give it a shot.

I went with Dwimmermount just because I was so familiar with it. Here’s how I did it:

  • I focused primarily on the four basic attributes to stat things up and then hand-waved everything else. If GURPS had rules for stuff and I knew where to find it, then I would take a second to look it up. In most cases, this meant flipping between the weapons and armor pages and the damage charts for swing and thrust.
  • I did not want to convert anything. Clerics and Magic-Users would work exactly how they do in ACKS or B/X D&D.
  • I used the morale rules from Moldvay Basic, because it is so essential in eliminating dull “fight to the last hit point” type battles.
  • I would also check for surprise the D&D way, just because it works well to vary how encounters are set up.
  • Movement rates from Moldvay Basic (based on armor) was the way that I determined the frequency for wandering monster checks. I know GURPS does great with speeds and encumbrance… but I didn’t need that.
  • Combat I ran theater of the mind– I did not want to turn this into a series of interminable miniatures battles.
  • I used the bare minimum of GURPS combat rules: roll skill or less on 3d6, roll for dodge, roll damage, subtract DR, multiply damage for Cutting or Impaling attacks, roll for knock down if major wound, roll for unconsciousness if hit points drop below zero. (Whew!)
  • I intended to do experience rules the B/X way… because “XP for gold” with the challenge of making it to level two is so essential to dungeon adventure.

That’s it! Here’s how it played out:

I showed my son the wilderness map and explained the Dwimmermount history in two minutes. We skipped the town segment. We skipped the old guy in the tavern that’s in every other adventure. My son’s party included one painstakingly designed character with a light saber… and then four fighters, one cleric, one magic-user, and two thieves. (His compadres started the game with not one single stat.) He set his marching order and I started him at the entrance to the dungeon.

In the statue room, he really wanted to do property damage. He failed to knock a statue over but took one of the heads off and proceeded to smash it. This activity triggered several wandering monster checks and I ruled that the 2 crab spiders that had showed up simply dropped down out of the ceiling. The poison on these things is a huge deal for first level parties, but here… they could not penetrate the DR of the plate armored guys they attacked, so they were dispatched with no problem. (Well… that didn’t go like I expected! Maybe I’ll try all-out attack to an unarmored hit location next time….)

Going through a random door, the party encountered orcs! One fighter took ten hits damage and he retired from the fray. My son’s character killed two or three orcs with his light saber. The orcs passed their first morale check with this, but failed the second one, so they ran away. My son chose to chase after them, but going through a door they escaped through, he came to an intersection with no idea which way they went. (He failed a perception check.)

He decided to continue on and came to a room with some demonic masks. He cut one in half with his light saber, got a face full of poison gas, and made a health check to shrug it off.

Continuing on, he took a turn and came to a locked door. He started to cut his way in with his light saber. This was so noisy, it triggered wandering monster checks. The result? More orcs! I ruled that the party of orcs that ran away had linked up with another party and had decided to sneak up on the party while they were distracted.

They made their surprise roll and used it to hurt the cleric and knock down the magic user. My son’s character moved to the rear as the magic-user was knocked unconscious with another axe-stroke. Then the light saber came out and the orcs started dropping almost every second. I ruled that this was so fearsome that they had to make a morale check to keep this up… and they failed. (Positive modifiers for leader and reinforcement were canceled out by the shock and awe factor of the light saber.) The orcs ran away again.

My son then cut his way through the door, sliced up a wight that was inside, looted the room of its many treasures, and then headed for the exit. No wandering monsters harassed him on the way out, so we called it a game there.

So what did I learn? Well, if I took just twenty minutes to stat up just the wandering monsters for level one and my four generic first level player character types, then it would be much easier to wing another session or three like this. (Dwimmermount is about 80% wandering monsters in practice.) It seems like the GURPS party can delve a lot farther than the B/X party’s typical “15 minute workday”– even without a light saber to make mincemeat out of the opposition. That says to me that I should feel free to beef up the monsters more than what I tried in this session so that they have an appropriate amount of “bite” for a game like this. Additionally… I could probably cut the generic player character’s health scores and hit points in half to get the sort of volatility I’d prefer.

All of this means… I didn’t really know how to prep for this game until I’d already played it. But my son will decide if he wants to play again based on this one session where I was just making things up as we went along! But hey… I don’t have a lot of time to prep and I definitely don’t want to prep things that I’m not going to play. And if my son is finished with this, then I don’t even need to waste half an hour on it. Given the number ways that a campaign can die before it even gets started, this is the only way you can really do this stuff and still keep your sanity. And just like those fancy character classes from ACKS Players Companion– the GURPS rules can trickle in at a rate that helps me run my game rather than turning it all into one more thing I don’t have time to deal with.

Rules don’t have to be a barrier to playing an rpg you aren’t expert in– especially a toolkit game like GURPS. Start with the dead minimum and then slowly dial it up in response to the demands of actual play, and you’ll never be overwhelmed.

Related Posts:

Cirsova — Can you play Dungeons & Dragons without Minis? (Man, I hope so!)

Gaming Ballistic — Geek & Sundry on GURPS – some praise, some misconceptions (Note: I did not need a calculator at any point here…!)

Let’s GURPS — Encounter: Dire Bombardier Beetle (Yeah, I’m keeping my eye on this blog as I look at GURPSifying a few more monsters here…!)

Bookkeeping notes in case a campaign actually emerges out of this:

  • 5 orcs killed
  • Magic-User has 14 hits taken (does he recover?)
  • Cleric has 4 hits taken
  • One Thief has 5 hits taken
  • One Fighter has 10 hits taken
  • One room looted… with magic items!
One Comment
  • Great war story! And the principle you draw from it is also spot-on, in my view: the principle being “Don’t let either prep or rules get in the way – just start playing!”

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