GM confidence: 3.5/5. It was more good than bad, to be fair, but some stuff definitely didn’t go as planned, and would have benefited from a little more polish. I feel I can accurately say that my less-than-positive opinion is based not on what was but what ought to have otherwise been.
If you’ve been reading these debriefs up to this point, you might have picked up on a recurring theme of “bad week at work,” and that’s no less so in this case. Another rough week resulted in problems thinking through the known issues, and missing some unknowns, delaying the needed detail-work to the last minute. And a rough day on Saturday—including a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit in the apartment—meant I was having some real problems keeping focused and processing the usual problems quickly during the game. Combine that with a complicated, experimental narrative that crammed way too many characters. Honestly, I’m amazed it wasn’t a disaster.
The “find the assassins” Skill Challenge(s) from Part I became more of a Task Chain/Skill Gauntlet in Part II, due to the lack of an obvious, achievable “success” objective. Otherwise, it was more of the same, focusing on new characters and the “shadowing the princess” narrative, with the events tailored for specific PCs this time. I had a really hard time coming up with the content until late in the week, but I felt pretty good about the results, though it could certainly have used a bit more polish. The one involving the wedding went really quickly, too. Over the two sessions, I think I’m getting the hang of this one (much improved from Session 3).
Now at the midpoint of the campaign, I’ve started trying to raise the stakes a bit. I definitely succeeded with the tourney—there was a real chance of failure there, and in the end, the PCs as a group really had to “earn” that win. And the assassin got away (which I didn’t actually expect).
I felt like I finally got a proper grasp of the overall jousting situation, if a bit down-to-the-wire. Another session or two, and I think it would have been really solid. By the end, I had a good feeling about the Grand Mêlée mechanic I had in mind, even though I didn’t get to use it.
The “gambling” mechanic was a last-minute addition and it went horribly wrong. As we started to make use of it, I could tell the players were starting to raise eyebrows, but it wasn’t until an hour or so after the session that it started to make sense why. In retrospect, what I realized I was doing was more akin to “betting against the house” or a bookie, which makes more sense in a modern setting, but here, it did not. And I hadn’t fully processed how it would interact with the Gambling skill. What would have been more correct was to use Social Engineering to locate individuals willing to wager, and “haggling” (possibly using Gambling skill in place of Merchant) to arrive at the “price”—after which, you win what they bet, or lose what you bet, without modification.
There were some narrative bits the PCs didn’t acquire, some of which were mildly important, because I failed to find a proper opportunity to introduce them, and/or because I reflexively resorted to die-rolls when I probably shouldn’t have. At the least, Area Knowledge and Current Affairs are good fodder for a “group based” roll rather than individual. But really—if it’s important, or even just interesting, just bloody find an excuse to give it to them. If you’re making them roll for it, it should be something they can progress without.
The idea of introducing characters as a group, specifically with regard to the families, is still a good one. But I did a much better job of it in Part I than Part II— in which I missed the right moment on the Wolfreys, and completely forgot about the Crownroys. As a result, I ended up throwing around names that the players didn’t quite recognize. In the end, it’s probably better to take a moment to briefly point out the characters in addition to showing the group-image.
Around the tournament, we encountered a number of issues:
- The “Round 2” segment dragged on for much longer than it should have. There were a couple of reasons: Getting the other PCs involved in helping Ser Kenrick, while useful for keeping the players engaged, resulted in delays while we sorted out various related details, and quite a bit of rules-related flailing-about. Also see the aforementioned “Gambling” issues. After Round 2 it actually went fairly quickly, though, so it wasn’t all bad. As a result, far too much time was spent with Ser Kenrick in the spotlight, and unfortunately, the whole thing ended too late for me to keep the Grand Mêlée.
- While I don’t consider the “piling on” of Bennies to get Ser Kenrick the win to be a necessarily bad thing, and it is indeed “legal” according to what I had recorded, I am considering limits for the future.
- It was during the prep for this session that the reality began to settle in, for me, that during each round of eliminations, each knight is going to be fighting only once, without some sort of shenaniganry, regardless of the total number of participants. That means only one bout for Ser Kenrick in the whole two weeks prior. Fortunately I had already planned for some shenanigans on the part of Ser Robin, which I just worked into the narrative. Even so, it seems weird.
- Similarly, I kept finding holes in my tournament-rules logic regarding who would advance when, and how the mechanics would support it. It is a little unforgivable that this wasn’t nailed down from the beginning.
- Separating the mechanical joust contest from the between-joust events was the best I could come up with at the time, and it was a little jarring. It really needed to be broken up and woven into the narrative/timeline—still jarring, but maybe less so.
Finally, the Mirror: Murdok’s player was being true to the character when he decided he should destroy the mirror, but it was damned inconvenient. But that wasn’t so bad as the fact that, as with the aforementioned “rumors,” I failed to find the right opportunity to remind the players that it might be useful, especially at the wedding events. This is something I still don’t quite have an answer for. Does the GM just tell them (because it’s important)? I realized after the session that I should have brought Truvio back, and he would have made an excellent mouthpiece to that end. Too late. I’ve already figured out how the mirror will return, at least.
The Experiment: Tournament, Continued
In the process of dealing with the joust competition, I’ve found a few holes in the GURPS rules-as-written:
- Setup: Min ST for a lance is 12. Meaning, effectively, the minimum ST for a knight is also 12. Therefore, it can be expected to require at least 10 points of damage delivered to cause a 1yd Knockback. The 2d+3 example (a reasonable average) listed on B397 averages 10 points of delivered damage, and maxes out at 15 (not including All-Out, etc.). Given this, doing enough damage to Knockback more than one yard (20+) not only requires a Critical Hit, but a specific result on the Critical Hit table.
- Basic and Martial Arts agree that it takes 15 points to break a tournament lance. Given the above, this will only occur with maximum damage. This is just wrong. My solution was to use the optional “Quick and Dirty Weapon Breakage” (LTC2:22), treating the “tournament” lance as Cheap, so it would break on a 1-2 on 1d6 when struck using ST 12—this is much better, and not too complicated to use.
- An expert rider (Riding 14) with a war-saddle (+3 to Staying Seated) after 1yd of Knockback (-4) has to beat an effective 13 or be unhorsed—this is okay. With a few more points in the Staying Seated technique (MA81) that effective roll can go up to 17—which fails only on a crit. This assumes (as I have ruled it) that Staying Seated does not benefit from the +5 for a horse that “knows and likes” the rider (B217), or it’s nearly impossible to unseat a basically-skilled rider. This feels wrong.
- Heavy Plate Armor (LT111) has DR 9-11 (depending on options), which, if damage is regularly high enough to break a lance, is going to take an average knight down to 0 HP after a few such hits. This isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but while injuries during jousting aren’t unusual, they don’t seem to be accounted as being that common. Obviously, lower-DR armors will make those injuries even more common. It might be justifiable to give the 3-pronged tournament lance-tip a .5 armor divisor, which would help considerably in this case. Of course, the use of a grand-guard or well-positioned shield could double that DR, making this point moot, providing the opponent hits that target.
- Historically, as time advanced, the use of shields in jousting (as well as knightly combat in general) fell more out of fashion. Joust participants used grand-guards more and more—which suggests they expected to just “take” a hit. In GURPS, if you have a shield and decent skill, you can expect to deflect a lance blow entirely, resulting in no damage being delivered, no lance breakage, and no Knockback. This makes the use of the shield very attractive, even with the -3 to ride hands-free (MA73), which can be offset with a technique. This really doesn’t reflect history. Using the optional shield-damage rules (B484) would help a little, especially if it causes normal Knockback.
- I couldn’t find a definitive answer to whether or not the +1 damage/-1 skill from Move 7+ (B397) applied to the lance. As-written, it isn’t excluded, but logically, it really is double-dipping.
Bearing in mind the above, here’s what I employed:
- Apply Basic Abstract Difficulty to opposition “skill levels” as suggested for combat, increasing for each tournament interval.
- For each tournament interval, the PC and aggregate-opposition make an attack roll, treated as a Quick Contest. Most normal Maneuvers apply, like All-Out Attack. Initially, I determined that Telegraphed and Deceptive options were pointless, until Part II, when I decided to allow their defense effects to apply to the Staying Seated rolls. I decided Rapid Strike and All-Out (Double) would allow taking the best of two rolls (like Luck). Extra Effort would cost Long-Term Fatigue lasting until the end of the tournament. The margin in the Quick Contest would determine the winner, while the attack itself would be treated like autofire with a Rcl of 3—which would be the effective number of times damage was dealt (“hits”).
- Next, both sides make defense rolls. This would eliminate “hits” as for autofire. Of course, if most knights don’t use shields, there is no defense roll at all.
- Undefended “hits” do damage to the target as normal. Enough damage would result in Knockback as normal. Knockback would result in a Staying Seated roll as normal. Each hit would result in a lance breakage roll (using the QAD rule).
- The winner of the bout goes to the highest margin of success. A broken lance adds one to the margin. A proper unhorsing eliminates that side regardless of score, unless they are both unhorsed.
- I allowed Assistance rolls from the other PCs to apply to the Attack, and was pretty forgiving with their justifications. It might seem a little excessive, but I used it as a partial justification for the BAD level on the other side, so it balanced out.
- I really wanted to find a way to eliminate the defense roll entirely, just to speed things up, especially as I began to understand that the typical jousting knight probably wouldn’t bother. Obviously, I didn’t find a solution in time.
- I noticed the Roll with Blow technique (MA87) might be a good stand-in for defense in the joust, but it would require some rewiring for that purpose. Doubling Knockback as it describes seems like a good reason not to use it, but on the other hand, it might make unhorsing happen more often.
- I intended to use the Stop Hit (MA108) but still didn’t. I do think it’s appropriate, though, but it doesn’t mean much if nobody is making defense rolls.
- I should have given Committed Attack the same treatment as Telegraphed/All-Out(Determined), but should it apply to both defense and Riding or just one?
- Ser Kenrick’s use of a shield meant that he rarely had to make a Staying Seated roll at all, even when using Committed Attack, putting pretty much the entire field at a significant disadvantage.
As many problems as I had, I still think there’s a lot of potential here, with a little more polish. It won’t happen in this campaign, though. I do think it would probably have been ideal to spread this two-part “event” across another session or two, so it didn’t feel quite so crammed, I just didn’t want to commit that much of the limited campaign time to it—that would be better in a proper sandbox, or maybe a play-by-post thing.
About 24 hours after posting this, it occurred to me that the jousting lance damage, calculated as a collision according to B397, should be using relative velocity, not the mount’s Move. This increases the amount of damage being done significantly and renders moot a number of my complaints: at around 4d+3 or so, average damage becomes 17, which will break a lance every time under the basic rules; maximum damage becomes 27, which would easily cause 2 hexes of Knockback, and an additional -4 to the unhorsing roll—except that if the lance breaks at 15, it caps the damage at 15. Food for thought…