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The Critics Rave

The first review for GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road is up, and Blind Mapmaker is quite kind.

There's a passing mention of there not being a lot of jokes in this one, which is accurate. In addition to using my Very Serious Historian Indeed approach for this one, I had specific alternative plans for the pull quotes, which are a primary source of humor. The creation of some one-line spaces for pull quotes put a bit of a hole in things (no room for an attribution, so they emphasize a short line from the book itself), but basically all of the pull quotes are from primary sources. Most are from letters written by people living along the Silk Road, but there's one from a stuffy Roman moralist complaining about Chinese silk, and there are several from Journey to the West, which is about Silk Road travel, more or less. Oh, plus there's a bit from Kipling in the section about the Great Game which is from the book giving us that very expression, and one from Aurel Stein in the index,…

The Occasional Dungeon: Shrine, Lower Level

The most obvious entrance to the dungeon (though it's really not obvious at all) is through the shrine.



The remains of an earthen wall are still detectable around the precincts of the ancient temple, though it is nowhere more than a foot high and in places isn't there at all. Nevertheless, it delineates a region of high sanctity including the former courtyard, the exterior structure, and the cave, though not the catacombs beyond.

The shrine proper consists of a two-story-tall structure built against the hillside which enlarges the enclosed area of the cave beyond. The walls are three foot thick stone (DR 468, DR 135). The floor is made of heavy stone tiles, still in quite good shape after many years. There are no windows and a single door. When it was in use, the shade was pleasantly cool, but the roof is all but gone now, so apart from a few crumbling rafters, there's little shade. However, there are vaults supporting a second floor for four tower-like structures protrudi…

Silk Road Miscellaneous Comments

GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road is, at long last, out, after languishing for some months behind the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game. There's a more substantial bit on this forthcoming, but I've got some other thoughts that didn't make it into that, so...


The Silk Road is something of a departure from previous Hot Spots volumes. Instead of a single city, it covers a large, more vaguely defined, and much more culturally diverse region. In the pitch I sent to SJ Games, I described it as being more like GURPS Conan than any of the previous Hot Spots. It's more about trends and areas than specific people and events. And I think that actually makes it a much better setting for setting adventures. It's more of a sandbox (indeed, the Taklamakan desert is one of the world's biggest sandboxes) where the GM is relieved of the weight of specific historical events. And the specific nature of this region and its time make it easy for anybody from that time (or, at least, any …

The Occasional Dungeon: Key

I'll probably change my mind about things once it's far enough along to be really confusing, but I'm starting out with some conventions. The space between level floors is about 15 feet. Floor-to-ceiling distance on any given level, then, is typically in the 8-12 foot range, though see below for exceptions. Most of the dungeon is completely enclosed underground, so it's pitch dark unless delvers bring light with them unless otherwise noted. Some cartographic conventions are represented here:



The dark hatching represents the solid interior of the cave. It's rock. No background indicates a space with no floor at that level, or possibly no floor and no ceiling; see explanatory text for the level for details. This may be a space like a long vertical mine shaft or the upper or middle parts of very large underground chambers.Lightly stippled areas are sandy unfinished floors, which predominate both inside and outside the dungeon. There is rock underneath a hand's bread…

The Occasional Dungeon: Overview

In order to get some more GURPS out there and play with some maps, I started toying with something. I've worked up a large map ("ground level" is below; I may need to poke around with image hosting to keep enough maps at the proper scales) of a dungeon complex. From time to time, I'll post magnified excerpts from the map with details in GURPS terms, with specific reference to Dungeon Fantasy (that is, mostly stocked with things from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables and the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters volumes, but occasional pointers elsewhere). They may prove useful to somebody somewhere under some odd set of circumstances.


This dungeon is set in a fairly steep, rocky hill. The natural caves underneath it have long been home to a variety of creatures, natural and otherwise, but pretty much all horrible. There's also a large natural cavern accessible through a very large opening at the top of the hill where the surface caved in. It has been home to a number …

Pyramid 3/102: DF Goes To War Designer's "Notes"

There's nothing particularly mechanically innovative in my article in this issue of Pyramid. It is, though, chock full of historical inaccuracies! But they were put there on purpose. Given my work on otherprojects, I thought it might be worth issuing a disclaimer. This was not written with my Very Serious Historian Indeed hat on. Consequently, as the introduction indicates, considerable liberties have been taken, specifically to make units fit into size classes of about a squad and a few hundred troops.

The faux-Bronze Age Mesopotamian chariot units, for example, are essentially made up. There are records of garrisons or other smallish units combining a body of infantry with a handful of chariots. That handful allowed me to rationalize a nine-person unit. The chariot kirsu is far from a standardized unit, and the one presented here is very much on the small side when it comes to real ones. While one might find historical examples of the Greco-Roman and Medieval units as listed, al…

Review: 5 Minute Dungeon

Our gaming here is heavily shaped by a couple of factors. One is that we quite like cooperative games. Another is that we pay way too much attention to Kickstarter. Some of the games we've backed, notably Burgle Bros., have been excellent additions to our gaming collection. So today, a new box showed up on our doorstep. How was it? Well...

5 Minute Dungeon from Wiggles 3D is a cooperative dungeon-themed card game. Two to five players have five minutes to work through a series of monsters and other challenges to finally face off with a boss monster. There's actually a series of bosses, so a full round of them can theoretically be accomplished in about a half hour.


Each player chooses one from among ten different adventurers: the sorceress, the barbarian, the valkyrie, the ninja, and so on (for those who care about such things, the gender mix is evenly split between male and female). Each adventurer has their own deck of cards (which, by the way, are flexible enough to shuffle …

Yeah, So Why GURPS?

I saw this on Doug's blog, and that prompted me to review why I like GURPS, my go-to RPG system since I first ran into it in...hmmm...must have been 1986. I use it for basically everything I'm willing to run (except Paranoia, of course). Why? Well...
Mechanically Simplicity
For all the hoopla about how GURPS is an insanely complicated game, it pretty much all boils down to a single rule: roll a target number, usually based on one of a character’s capabilities modified for the circumstances, or below on 3d6. That’s it. I’m not stats geek enough to care specifically about roll low vs. roll high or 3d6 vs. 1d20 vs. 1d100; the point is that it’s a single, standardized die roll. Such complexity as GURPS has in play is about figuring out which capability to roll against and how to modify it for the situation, but those are a necessary consequence of one of GURPS’s other virtues. Point-Based
The point-based system provides a single currency and relatively open set of choices for develo…

Storage Solution

We have...several games. Enough that we have trouble keeping them all in one place. We've had some stacked in a corner here, under a bench there, on a bookshelf somewhere else. Recently, certain persons to whom I am married suggested that it'd be great to have some kind of rolling cart we could put our games on, which we could wheel out when we wanted to pull out a game and then put away when we were done. She thought it was something which we could build, and after looking at prices for library carts (we're looking at $300 for something with the kind of storage we need), build one it was.

The lumber was reasonably cheap, less than $70 for manufactured pine panels, plus a few bucks for some nice wheels (two with built-in brakes to keep it stable when needed). An hour of router work gave me some reasonably functional dado joints, and construction went pretty quickly. The only really time-consuming bit, as ever, was finishing, which is always "lightly sand, put on a qui…

Blast From the Distant Past: Ready Ref Sheets

After quite some time of intending to but completely forgetting about it, I finally got over to DriveThruRPG to buy the PDF of Judges Guild's 1978 landmark work, Ready Ref Sheets. This work from the dawn of RPGs, a mere four years after the publication of the original D&D and two years after the white box I learned the game from, has been called the first GM aid. And it is, if not the first, then at least one of the earliest works aimed at GMs but wasn't an adventure or location description (those being heavily overlapping categories at the time). I remembered it fondly from years and years and years ago as a fascinating source of gaming-related riches. On the other hand, I haven't really looked at a D&D volume in the past decade, haven't played in two, and haven't played this particular archaic version since before leaving high school, and for my own gaming needs, there would seem to be very little going for it beyond nostalgia.

So how does it hold up?
Yea…