D&D Without Attack Rolls or Saving Throws

D&D sucks when your turn comes around and nothing happens, either because you whiff on your attack roll or you cast a spell and miss your attack or your target makes their saving throw. Any game sucks when your turn amounts to nothing, but especially a game like D&D where you might have waited 30 minutes for your turn to come back around again in a complex combat encounter.

It’s also tough when you build a spellcaster like an enchanter, or someone who has a lot of spells that allow saving throws, as sometimes you’ll use your magic and nothing will happen. Unlike an attack roll, you’re already using a limited resource – spell slots – and getting nothing for it.

I was also thinking about how to adapt some of what I was enjoying so much about Breath of the Wild to tabletop, and one thing about Breath of the Wild, and most video games in general, is there are no saving throws that negate your abilities, and normally instead of a character skill roll to attack you are relying on player skill. The player skill is harder to attach to a tabletop RPG, and depending on how you do it you get accessibility issues. But that’s a line of thinking for another time.

As a rule, there shouldn’t be a point in a story when a main character takes action and nothing changes. That’s true for PCs in RPGs – when they act, something should change. What prevents that change in D&D are attack rolls and saving throws, so I wondered, how much would I have to change D&D to get rid of those two things?

Turns out, a lot, but not as much as I’d feared.

What follows are my notes so far. Feel free to use them as a starting-point. I need to playtest this idea, but I do think it’s workable. As with the other things I’ve uploaded here in the past, I’ll update this document as I improve on my notes. Enjoy!

We Are Old

So, the plan was to have a nice long marathon game session, 8 hours or so, to finish out the GURPS Midnight campaign that we’ve been playing for well over a year now.

We made it for two and a half hours before everyone was in my living room, draped over the couch on on the recliner.  We mumbled about maybe making some coffee or going for a walk,and then gave up and called it a day. Luckily we will play tomorrow as well, and hopefully actually finish.  As the person running the game, I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t.

One of my friends made the point, and it’s true – we’re old now.  (All of us are in our 30s).  We can’t even game for a whole day anymore (honestly, I could have, but my love for gaming is well over into obsessive territory sometimes).

It’s true, though.  Ten years ago we were doing things like gaming for an entire weekend in the attic of our dorm, breaking only for maybe one sleep and a few meals consisting of pizza and Mountain Dew.  We were tired by Sunday afternoon, but dammit, we did it.  Orcs were slain. Elders were diablerized.  Quests were quested and hope was restored to the world.

Not anymore.

This makes me sad.  I know I’m supposed to be a grownup.  I have a baby now and everything.  But screw that – I want to game.  Except that I, and all of my friends, are aging.

GURPS: Midnight Grand Finale

Given unforeseen changes in my situation and a new job opportunity for one of my players, I’m planning on having a grand finale this coming weekend for my GURPS: Midnight campaign.  It’s been a fun campaign, I think, where I’ve tried a number of new things.  It has survived not one but two holiday seasons, which might be unprecedented for long-term games I’ve run.
I had planned to have about 5 more 4-hour sessions to finish the game up, and I’ll be collapsing that down into one 8-hour session with a break in the middle.  Essentially, I’ll be trimming any fat that I can find, and bringing things to a climax sooner than I’d thought.
As far as the story goes, the PCs have been kicking ass all over Baden’s Bluff.  They’ve managed to kill the head of a powerful smithing family, the Prince of the city, the High Legate, and a PC infiltrator nearly took over the Temple of Shadow, only barely being ousted by the NPC who is the new High Legate.  Another trio of PCs working together killed a colossal undead wyvern that had been plaguing the city since the very first session – written up as a 400pt monster using GURPS rules.  The PCs are now about 250pt characters, but still, they had a cool plan, took absurd chances, and my wife’s character got to ride on the re-dying undead wyvern’s back as it crashed into the city’s governmental center.
In some ways, it’s going to be hard to follow that kind of stuff up.  Fortunately, I have one more evil NPC to throw at them, and he’s the worst threat they’ve faced yet.
In the Midnight setting, Eredane, there is only one god, Izrador, the Shadow, who rules everything through his minions and Orc hordes and enslaved Dragons and so on.  His four most powerful lieutenants are the Night Kings (like Nazgul if Sauron had gotten a hold of the ring).  One of them, Sunulael, the Priest of Shadow, has gotten word of how well the resistance is doing in Baden’s Bluff, and he will be making a personal appearance there to straighten things out.
On the GURPS scale, he is a 500pt character, using the 4th Edition rules – firmly in demigod range.  The PCs are slated to be about 300pt characters by the end of the game, rising from 100pt to 200pt characters, and then having another 100pts of abilities from their Heroic Paths.  At first I wrote up Sunulael as a character just out of curiosity – what could I do, within reason, with 500pts?  Since I am adapting a D20 setting, I was looking at an ECL 32 monster in the setting sourcebook and trying to translate him into more limited GURPS terms.  Now, it turns out, I have reason to use him, since all the things the PCs have accomplished would absolutely draw his attention, and ire.
In a world run by evil, heroes are punished for success.
The PCs had a meeting with other resistance leadership (all but one of which they have overshadowed pretty thoroughly), and they ended up making the case for overthrowing the Shadow in their city and then working to inspire resistance in other places around the world.  That was one option, the other being to drastically strengthen their position in the city but continue working in secret, training and equipping resistance movements in other cities.  My players, though, they like drama.  And, honestly, this is the more fun option.
I haven’t planned for an 8 hour session since college, and even then not very often.  It’ll be interesting, and I want to cram the time with as much awesome as I can fit in there.  That being said, characters in GURPS are fragile things, and this Big Bad is very, very big.  Should be interesting.

GURPS Midnight – Heroic Paths


A while ago I said that I would get into my system for handling Heroic Paths in GURPS Midnight.  In the original D20 Midnight, Heroic Paths were a way to augment your character in a setting where magical items and magic itself are both rare and illegal to possess.  Each level, your Heroic Path would give you a bonus, or a spell-like ability or free Feat that fit with the theme of the Heroic Path.
At the beginning of the campaign, I had the players go through a few pages of images I’d picked to represent each Heroic Path.  These were just culled from Deviant Art or wherever – my apologies to dozens of artists, but I didn’t charge money or anything.  For the list of Heroic Paths, I went with the Midnight Campaign Setting, Second Edition.  The players chose: 
Chanceborn, Faithful, Fey-blooded, Shadow Walker, Spellsouled and Sunderborn
What I decided that I wanted to do is to have various powers from the Heroic Paths manifest at dramatic moments during the game.  At the end of each session, each player gets 5 character points, and I also put 5 character points into their Heroic Path.  (This leads to faster-than-average development for GURPS, but we only play once a month on average, and I actually haven’t found it to be unbalancing or anything so far)  When there are enough points in a Heroic Path to justify something manifesting, it happens.  Usually this is around 15 character points or so, so once every three or four sessions for each character.
Here’s what I’ve done so far.  Most of the characters are in their third manifestation, and the Heroic Path totals are at about 50 character points.  Again, this is pretty powerful, but because it is incremental, I haven’t found it to be unbalancing.  I can still threaten the PCs pretty easily because it is GURPS after all.  When choosing powers to manifest, I’m looking at what is offered in the Midnight core rulebook and expanding on those ideas. I’m also thinking “What would this player enjoy?”
Chanceborn
Jin is a Sarcosian smuggler and horse-trader who has a strong penchant for fighting and a great deal of pride.  The player playing Jin is also a big fan of fighting characters with a lot of braggadocio and taunting who rely on luck.  Perfect.
First manifestation: Serendipity Level 1 [15pts]
Second manifestation: Hard to Kill +2, Hard to Subdue +2, Damage Resistance 1, Fearless +1 [15pts]
Third manifestation: Incredible Luck (every 1/2 hour of game time), Damage Resistance 2 [20pts]
Faithful
Callan is a Halfling ex-slave who went to Baden’s Bluff to free his wife and daughter.  Callan’s player loves cooking, and tends to play characters who are excellent cooks.  When he chose “Faithful”, which in the core rulebook means kind of religious, he meant it as faithful to his family ties, that sort of thing.  This player hasn’t been with us in a while, so I haven’t had a lot of input on his powers.
First manifestation: True Faith [15pts] – representing not religious faith, but sort of like true love
Second manifestation: Regeneration (1 HT/hour) for those who eat special food he prepares, and he can also now roll Cooking and have it count as being under the care of a medical professional, restoring 1d-3 HT per day [30pts?]
Fey-blooded
Maeve is a half-Elf, which in the setting is not something that is supposed to be possible, but her mother was an Elf and her father an Erenlander.  She was taken as a slave and was liberated by the other PCs.  I imagined this Heroic Path as her becoming more and more Elf-ish.
First Manifestation: 15 Perfect Balance; 5 Illusion Disguise @12 [20pts]

Second Manifestation: 5 Dodge +1; 5 Move +1; 5 Night Vision +5; 5 Shape Plants @12 [30pts]
Shadow Walker
Kenneth is a rogue, sneaky and thief-like, living off of what he can steal and dealing with horrible memories of what happened to his family.  He really found his niche, though, as someone who stabs servants of the Shadow in the throat.  I liked the idea that this Path would have him kind of walking the line between hero and villain.
First manifestation: Chameleon +3 (modified: functions through clothing, only functions near ambient shadow) [15pts]

Second manifestation: Blind Fighting 12, Dodge +1, Fearless +1 [21pts]

Third manifestation: Shadow Step @ 12, High Pain Threshold [15pts]
This Heroic Path introduces an idea that I imported from GURPS 3rd Edition – the idea of magical Knacks.  You can do the same in 4th Edition with a lot more work, but basically my rule is that as a 5pt Advantage, you can take a spell as a Knack, at either a skill level of 12 or IQ+Magery, whichever is higher.  That’s where he gets the Shadow Step from.  He also gets Blind Fighting without being Trained by a Master – part of the Heroic Paths is that you get Advantages and Skills and so on that you wouldn’t normally be able to get, those included.
Spellsouled
Emre is a business-Gnome and an accomplished smuggler at this point.  He has a natural talent for channeling, and can manipulate minds and emotions with ease, but what he really wants is “elemental kill-you magic”, so that’s just what I give him through his Heroic Path.  What his Spellsouled path provides is access to spells that no one in the current setting could teach him.  He already has Magery 3.
First manifestation: Ignite Fire, Create Fire and Shape Fire at IQ+Magery [12pts]
Second manifestation: Purify Air, Create Air and Shape Air at IQ+Magery; also the ability to spell-sing (lower cost, 10x longer casting time) and Singing at HT+1 [14pts]
Third manifestation: Seek Earth, Shape Earth, Earth Vision, Seek Water, Create Water, Icy Weapon all at IQ+Magery [24pts]
Sunderborn
Verrick is a bureaucrat, and has been incredibly effective as such, shuffling around paperwork and records and committing dozens of forgeries for the Resistance.  He has also successfully infiltrated the Order of Legates, and is posing as a Legate, doing damage from the inside.  For his Sunderborn Path, it took me a while, but I eventually decided he would be manifesting powers of a Star Archon.
First manifestation: Power Investiture +1, Bravery and Sense Spirit at IQ+PI [18pts]
Second manifestation: Tongues [15pts]
Third manifestation: Haste, Minor Healing and Levitation at IQ+PI [12pts]
***

Another option, if you want to give the players more choice (I’m always open to suggestions or what they want to see) is to give the players extra character points, and let them buy Advantages they normally could not buy during the course of the game with them.  This is a good option for a group that is accustomed to playing GURPS and knows the rules well – this group is pretty new to the system, so I thought I’d just take care of the specifics, and we could always negotiate if they weren’t happy.  So far, they all seem to be enjoying it.

Thankless, Obsessive…Obsidian

As anyone who has ever run a roleplaying game knows, it tends to involve a great deal of thankless, semi-obsessive work on the part of the DM or GM or whoever is in the “big chair”.  This is no different in the case of the GURPS Midnight game I continue to run whenever all of us can get together on Saturdays.

I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed using Obsidian Portal for all of this typing and noodling.  The name of our campaign is “Baden Burning” – I am using Under the Shadow as a resource for the game, but taking it in character-driven directions otherwise.  There are also significant changes that have to be made for me to use GURPS for the setting.  It is well worth the work, however; GURPS is profoundly better-suited to a gritty, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting like Midnight than D20 is.

Anyway, for you reading pleasure, I have the link above to the Obsidian Portal wiki pages for Baden Burning.  Anyone else using Obsidian Portal want to share what you’re doing?