GIWTR 02 – Eight Devils of the Demon’s Gate – Part 02 – GURPS and Iterative Conversions

Came up with a snappy title, and by came up with I mean just took the literal translation of the antagonists from Ninja Scroll. But I won’t tell if you don’t. So when we last looked at EDotDG (behold my mighty acronym powers) I was considering how best to create a system for the Tracking/”Discovery” phase of the game. I do have some thoughts on that, which I’ll get to later, but while thinking around it other elements sprung up. Perhaps the most pressing of which was how to make the combats against the “Devils” feel both different and fun. Considering the menagerie of huge monsters that show up in most fantasy RPG’s (and a number of other genres) there is surprisingly little written about how to run such combats, in terms of either GM advice or actual mechanics.

I nailed down a bit more of the setting and had thoughts on how chargen might work. Half way through I realised my half remembered knowledge of GURPS 3rd edition wasnt going to cut it and I was going to have put things at least partially on hold while I got to grips with 4th edition. The core of which consists of two books and around eight hundred pages of what is rather dry reading. So that is going, well, slowly. Which may or may not be an issue. While searching for this and that I came across this blog, where someone is doing a “worked example” of taking an existing IP and not so much converting it to GURPS as using it to create a new setting which takes your favourite elements from that (and other) IP’s. As that’s my current plan I found it pretty interesting, in particular I liked their “fail faster” iterative approach to developing a working conversion/new setting. So much so that I decided to assume a similar approach for EDotDG. Considering their central role in the planned setting/campaign this meant hashing out some details about how the Devils and the “Identification” (again the mechanical centerpiece as it were) worked. So Pinterest search and Photoshop in (proverbial) hand I set out to stat up my first Devil and the first iteration of the tracking and identification system.

The more astute reader may have spotted how trying to stat up a keystone monster in a system I didn’t really understand could lead to problems. They would be correct in their assumptions of trouble ahead. Though really the trouble set in before getting to the nitty-gritty mechanics. Specifically the most recent phase of development has been hindered by an inability to nail down exactly what kind of abilities the monster should have. This is because a lot of elements inform what kind of abilities are appropriate or will work. The main one being the one mentioned in the opening paragraph, how the combats would be handled would be central to how the monsters would be statted up and what abilities they could, should and would have.

Would I run the combats like a standard battle but with just one opponent? That instantly brings up issues with fights going on too long, fights being too lethal, the broken action economy it suggests, etc. Should I run the monster as if it were terrain rather than opponent? But then does it really feel like you’re actually fighting anything? Should the monster be run like a dungeon where you defeat it piecemeal? Should the monster mechanically be made up of separate sub-monsters? Should it be a staged boss fight? Should the monsters have weak points? And so on and so on. I trawled through my (fairly sizeable I’ll immodestly say) RPG library and as I said above, there really isn’t a lot out there on this and what there is isn’t always applicable.

But not everything is unclear doom and gloom. After reading through a few RPG’s with strict scene framing structures I decided to move away from something quite that structured. I did however want to make the seasons important, both as an homage to Pendragon and because they play an important role in Japanese life and fiction. While making headway with the tracking system I realised that I may not need a meta-currency as an in-game currency would serve just as well if not better. That currency being time. If each Devil was aspected to a certain season, month or time of year then there naturally be negative consequences hunting it outside those times. This meant that the PC’s would only have X amount of time to hunt it down in order to insure the best hunt. From there it seems easy enough to abstract out the first portion of each session to a tracking phase where the PC’s use contacts/tracking/divination/etc. to try to locate where exactly in the country the creature might be. Each roll/attempt would consume X amount of in-game time so the PC’s would have to balance fighting the Devil when its most vulnerable against going against it with incomplete information. Though whatever happens they need to be able to find at least the general area. So looking at results vs abstract levels of success I’m thinking something like:

  • Critical failure – They find roughly where it is but get there “out of season”
  • Failure – They find roughly where it is but get there with little of the season left or they get there and the Devil’s aware of them
  • Success – They find the general area and have enough of the season left to do “on the ground recon” – They find out a basic fact
  • +1 Levels of Success – As above but they also find out an uncommon fact
  • +2 Levels of Success – As above but they also find out a rare fact
  • +3 Levels of Success – As above but they also find out a critical fact
  • +X Levels of Success – Not sure, might give them bonus meta-currency or let them counteract any negative effects of the season (e.g. no travel penalty in Winter)

This part of the session is labelled “The Chase”, its largely the PC’s summarising their actions, roleplaying some scenes where appropriate. This ends when the PC’s “hit the ground” and the session moves on to The Hunt. This will likely form the bulk or at least 1/2 – 2/3 of the session and will involve more “real-time” roleplaying, more in-depth scouting of the monster and its environs, etc. At the end this part of the session the PC’s will have “revealed” the Devil and its actual game abilities will be locked in. How exactly this will be handled I’m not sure. I want it to have some mechanical weight, I want the PC’s to feel like they are defining the monster. But I don’t want to bog things down with too much point buy, analysis paralysis stuff as it will be occurring before the big battle which should be the session/that hunt’s exciting finale. Maybe have it timed? Though that feels like it could be a bit obnoxious. I’m fairly sure it will involve a meta-currency of sorts. But how the currency is earned and spent is still up in the air. Nope. Fail Faster. Have to write something down for it. Let’s see.

Each Devil’s Hunt phase has an associated list of eight facts about the Devil. For each one of these facts the PC’s uncover they gain 1 Hunt Point. At the end of the Hunt they can spend these points to Prove or Disprove Truths about the monster. Truths come in three levels, Uncommon (2 points), Rare (3 points), Critical(4 points). Truths come in two varieties, Hidden and Unproven. Hidden truths arent revealed to the players but are always positives for the monster. If a Hidden Truth is Disproved the Devil no longer gains benefits from it (not entirely sure if keeping this hidden from players is the way to go). Unproven Truths are always negative for the Devil and when Proven they let the player apply a weakness to the Devil. The Truths that the players spend their Hunt Points on don’t necessarily have to match the facts they found during the Hunt phase. Perhaps a short example will make it clearer.

Example: The PC’s are investigating the Ootengu (Great Tengu), Tenno, one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai (the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan). While investigating the mountain where their Onmyodo divinations said he resided they discover the following facts:

  • local village girls go missing on the night of the full moon
  • on the night of the new moon great storms raged down the mountain and in the morning the fields were soaked in blood
  • some girls return pregnant but their children are all born monstrous and choking on their own blood pouring from their severed tongues
  • three years ago a powerful Buddhist exorcist tried to placate the spirits of the mountain by reading scripture while he passed the night unmolested the next day the children in the surrounding villages were struck down by a wasting sickness and the exorcist was killed by the villagers to appease the angry Tenno.

Finally, on the night of a full moon the PC’s climb to the top of the mountain ready for their confrontation with Tenno. At this point the Hunt portion of the adventure would end and the PC’s would earn and spend their Hunt Points. In this case they earned four points during the Hunt phase and carried over two points from a very successful Chase phase. The PC’s decide to Disprove one of the concealed Hidden Truths at Uncommon level and Prove an Unproven Truth at Critical level. The PC’s chose from the list of Uncommon Hidden Truths and the DM reveals that the disproved the Hidden Truth that Tenno is served by two powerful Tengu bodyguards (so as its untrue the adds are removed from the upcoming battle). The PC’s look through the list of Unproven Truths and choose the “Weak Spot” Critical Truth. This lets the PC’s chose Tenno’s weakspot from an associated list and they choose “his tongue”.

That’s more or less off the cuff so excuse the flaws. Looking at it I can already see some ways to tweak it, I’d probably change the point values or the number of clues so that if the PC’s discover all the clues they can at least buy one Truth of each level. Or perhaps the cost of a Critical truth should be increased as it’s really rather good. I’m also unsure of how the Unproven Truths will work if the PC’s don’t prove them. Should there be a baseline version that has some or all of them? e.g. in this case if the PC’s didn’t pick a Weak Sport Truth would Tenno have had no weak spot? Being able to define a weak spot where these is none seems well worth four points, but is simply choosing what it is worth four? Well yeah, I suppose given the stakes it probably is. Other stuff I was thinking of for other levels was being able to declare “Blah is weak to X damage” where the PC’s can define the damage type most beneficial to them and so on. Or maybe the DM should be involved as well and they get points equal to 8-the number of facts found (minimum 1) and points are simply used for picks with whoever has the most going first. The DM’s pick locks or erases in the reverse of the way players picks work. Wouldn’t bother with point costs or tiers for Truths then, just beef them all up so they’re roughly on the same level. While I like the adversarial aspect as a player I cant help but think that I’d feel like the GM hadn’t “earned” their points.

I actually but together a sample “Monster Manual” page for a Devil. But then my brother happened to link me a page for doing the same in D&D 5th edition. Whereupon I pointed out that while it looked nice it felt like a waste of time as the players would never see it. Shortly after that conversation ended the irony dawned on me. Well we’ve hit about two thousand words which is where I like to draw the line. So to summarise the first iteration:

  • We have a name – Eight Devils of the Demon’s Gate
  • We have a system – GURPS 4th edition
  • We have a session structure – The Hunt -> The Chase -> The Confrontation
  • We have a mechanical subsystem for – The Hunt and The Chase (which may get name changes as they’re rather synonymous)

Vent your spleen