Tag Archives: House Rules

Going Semi-Mapless

Last Saturday, for the Olympus group, I ran another one-shot from our Supers campaign. I did a bit of an experiment I had been meaning to try for a while now.

Tactical combat—in pretty much any system, not just GURPS—tends to drag, for obvious reasons. We have experimented a few times with eliminating the tactical-map and going entirely theatre-of-the-mind. Sometimes it works. It does spare everyone some of the brain-cycles we use to process the tactical situation according to the grid, and reduces some weird meta-behaviors resulting from minding the rules. I’ve found that it helps—or maybe requires—some kind of graphic to establish the geography, to keep everyone on the same page about what’s where. But we’ve also done that, and in at least one instance, the confusion over who can see what, who can reach whom, etc., left a little to be desired. “Was he over there, or over there?” “How far is that?”

My experiment was to go “semi-mapless.” The players had no map, just an image reference of the combat area (in this case, first the alley, and second, the stairwell). But I, as GM, did have a tactical map, fully gridded and all that. I was tracking positions and moves based on the players’ descriptions, but I tracked facing, distance, etc., as usual, using my map grid. They had all the benefit of “mapless tactical combat” while I was able to keep everything (mostly) organized behind-the-scenes.

Afterward, I call it a success. There were a couple of places where I could have communicated the situation better—I think I need to remind the player-on-deck of the geography when their turn comes up. I felt free to fudge the details here and there, for simplicity, so it wasn’t too tedious, on my end. I definitely expect I’ll use it again in the future.

Universe Reaction, Extended


Some time ago, I introduced both of my player groups to my Universe Reaction idea. It has seen extensive re-use since then. We’ve found it quite useful. Along the way, I had planned to post some examples of how it might be used. I’m finally getting around to it now. (Since I don’t have much else to post about at the moment.)

Universe Reaction, Examples


Simple concept. Provides an answer to a yes/no question, like “Will it rain?” with a bit more granularity.

<=0 No, And+
1-3 No, And
4-6 No
7-9 No, But
10-12 Yes, But
13-15 Yes
16-18 Yes, And
19+ Yes, And+

This one is for questions like, “How much ammo do we find?” It depends on a rough idea, at least, how much is needed.

<=0 None at all
1-3 Hardly any
4-6 A little/half
7-9 Not enough
10-12 Almost enough
13-15 Enough
16-18 More than enough
19+ Plentiful

Actually, this is one of the earliest questions I was trying to answer that resulted in the idea of the Universe Reaction. It revolved around how early or late an “appointment” occurred, or what sort of delays a PC might experience in rush-hour traffic.

<=0 No-show
1-3 Really late
4-6 Late
7-9 A bit late
10-12 On time
13-15 A bit early
16-18 Early
19+ Really early

This question originally revolved around “scrounging” and how useful a found item might be to whatever-it-is. But it could obviously have much wider applications as well.

<=0 Worst possible match
1-3 Very bad match
4-6 Bad match
7-9 Poor match
10-12 Not quite good enough
13-15 Good enough
16-18 Close match
19+ Exact match
“Interesting Times”

By “interesting,” I mean the Chinese curse sense—May you live in interesting times. This question evolved from an attempt to work out some “random events.”

<=0 Most interesting (negative)
1-3 Very interesting (negative)
4-6 Interesting (negative)
7-9 Not interesting (maybe a little negative)
10-12 Not interesting (maybe a little positive)
13-15 Interesting (positive)
16-18 Very interesting (positive)
19+ Most interesting (positive)

Universe Reaction


AKA “The Universe hates/loves me”

Some time ago, I ran a Traveller one-shot that focused on a race-against-time to complete a rush-job. But as GM, I dislike arbitrating little things like how long someone has to stand in the queue at the bank, and in the case of this one-shot, it feels a bit like GM “cheating” anyway. So I came up with the concept of the Universe Reaction Check, to circumvent my arbitration-guilt. It works like this:

First, you mentally ask the question, “What is it the PCs are trying to do right now?” Then you figuratively turn to the Universe and ask if it will help or hinder their efforts, at which point you roll (for GURPS) an unmodified Reaction Check (B560) and consult the appropriate Request for Aid entry for the answer, as if it were an intelligent being with the power to smooth things along or get in the way. Simple.

In the case of the aforementioned one-shot, I translated this effect into minutes/hours/etc. of delay or acceleration of their timetable—because that’s what was at stake (a “base” time-increment will be required, though, to use it this way). But the effects would probably differ in other situations based on the PCs’ intentions. For example, if some post-apocalypse PCs are scrounging through some ruins for food, a “helpful Universe” would mean that some food is available at that location (the amount dependent on how helpful the Universe is feeling), and an “unhelpful Universe” would mean there is none to be found, or worse, an ambush awaits—this might be independent of whether or not the PCs are able to find that food, only indicating how much is available to be found. As some of the other GMs in both of my groups have started to use Universe Reactions in their games, I’ve seen it used during chases to determine if “suitable terrain” exists for a stunt. As it is, the concept is widely adaptable to any number of situations, but the more industrious GM could also build out more situation-specific Reaction tables for greater detail or less improvisation of effects.

Of course, the standard GURPS Reaction system allows for modifiers to the check, and that can still be incorporated. In the Traveller one-shot, a PC with Bad Luck insisted on penalizing those checks in his case. Conversely, “good” Luck is really just a favorable Reaction result, so one could reasonably treat is as an Influence success against the Universe. There’s no reason one couldn’t assign modifiers based on PCs “karmic” status, or add cumulative penalties as the adventure progresses to increase the stakes. Using GURPS Action 2, BAD could sensibly be applied as well.

Lastly, it is easily possible to use the same concept in other game systems, either using the GURPS check/table as-is or a similar mechanic from whatever system is being used.

Edit: See also Universe Reaction, Extended