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Avengers... Adventure!!!
Trials Of The Tesseract
Disarming Diversion

Avengers... Adventure!!!

Starting from Comic #356: Disarming Diversion
Disarming Diversion
Sometimes the best weapon in a GM's arsenal is just a good poker face.

And I don't just mean not having a tell. Sometimes you just want to avoid the tempting urge to throw in dramatic little flourishes like "it appears" or "as far as you can tell". Exact words are fun, but a lot of the times they can literally give the game away.

Reader Comments

Oh, I just use "It appears" every time I'm describing something, so it's not out of the ordinary if I say it and there's nothing there.
I read this with a huge grin on my face. This is an example of some of the best of roleplaying; the results of your actions and the GMs have left your character in a bind and... it is great fun! XD
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High Flying
There are some things that, depending on the campaign setting, no character should reasonably be able to survive.

I think falling into a moving full-speed propeller would generally be one of those things. XD

Reader Comments



Um... this one is kind of hard to do without referencing a specific ruleset, so I'll do my usual GURPS fanboy thing and explain there. Before delving into the the nature of damage, Hit Points, Health, and rolling to not die, let me reference in important but easily overlooked rule in GURPS that boils down to "If it would logically be unavoidably fatal, it is, regardless of what mechanics such as Hit Points could suggest." That's me paraphrasing, in case the quotation marks make it sound like I'm not. XP

What does it mean? Say your character is asleep and someone else slits his throat; your character is dead. The one slitting your character's throat doesn't have to roll to hit, nor roll for damage. You don't make the usual checks for bleeding or death. How is that fair? This isn't something that happens in normal combat; there you would be gaming it out. Even someone attempting to (for example) sneak into your room and slit your throat in your sleep would still involve a series of rolls to see if they successfully caught you totally unawares, in your sleep. If you're at all aware of the attack coming and can move, you're going to get a chance to Dodge.

GURPS has a reputation for lethality, but it isn't from what I just said. Instead, it stems from the sometimes misleading nature of how injury and the effects of injury are handled. You're stereotypical human as 10 Hit Points. We're going to refer to this person as Joe Average, because it'll make this read a lot better. XP Superficial injuries, like a scratch, are actually 0 (zero) Point injuries, representing things like like bruising or scratches that will only be relevant under extenuating circumstances (proof you'd been in a fight, an opportunity for infection, etc.) So a 1 HP injury is more than just a scratch; the exact form it takes depends on the nature of the injury. I'm not going to go to explain them, but note there are things like Shock, Crippling Injuries, Knockdown, Knockback, etc. when you're not using the simplified version of the injury rules. Yeah, it is GURPS; you can simplify the game down to GURPS Ultra Lite if you want, or increase the detail extensively, with rules for things like bleeding.

What seems to trip people up even more is... well... what I'll explain. When you have less than 1/3 your HP remaining, you're reeling from your wounds: move and Dodge are halved. You don't round up or down for that threshold; GURPS doesn't have fractional damage points, but since it is a threshold to clear, that means Joe Average will suffer those penalties when he's down to 3 HP, since that is less than the 3 1/3 (three and a third) Hit Points that are one-third of 10. Now, when you hit zero Hit Points in GURPS, you do not die. You are in trouble, though; at zero Hit Points remaining, unless your character chooses to Do Nothing* and focus on staying conscious, at the start of your turn you'll roll against your Health (HT) to avoid passing out. You'll have a penalty to that HT roll for each full increment of your HP you are below zero. So, when Joe Average has taken between 10 and 19 points of damage (putting him at 0 to -9 HP), he rolls against HT to stay conscious. When's he taken between 20 to 29 damage (is at -10 to -19 HP), he rolls against HT-1. Etc. Again, this is a good sign you desperately need to run away or surrender!

Wait, so when do you die? When you reach -1xHP, you roll against your HT to see if you die. So, after taking 20 points of damage (dropping to -10 HP), Joe would roll against his HT score of 10 to see if he immediately died from his injuries. As GURPS uses 3d6 and rolling at or below the target number, that means Joe has a 50% chance of dropping dead then and there! Each further, full multiple of your HP score that goes fully negative requires another "Death Check". So Joe rolls again after having taken 30 damage (is at -20 HP), and again after taking -40 damage (is at -30 HP) and so on and so forth until he reaches the next threshold of automatic death at -5xHP. In Joe's case, that would be after he's taken 60 damage (reached -50 HP). Now, the good news for Joe is that each Death Check only happens once at that damage threshold. So whether Joe suffered from a single attack that took him to -20 HP or several smaller attacks that totaled -20 HP, he's still only got to make two Death Checks. In case it is somehow unclear, if you heal up between taking damage, when you re-cross a threshold, you have to roll again. Of course, if Joe is injured to the point he's at -20 HP, healed back to -10 HP, then injuries again drop him back to -20 HP, that's only fair; during that battle, Joe's actually taken 40 damage, not 30. Don't forget that Joe is also still suffering the half Move/Dodge and having to roll to stay conscious each turn at this point!

There's one more number to worry about, beyond the automatic death threshold. Say Joe Average is from a world using GURPS default magic system. The good news for him is that the GM is allowing not only healing magic, but the Resurrection Spell** (might have the Spell name wrong). At -10xHP (or worse), the body is so damaged it is ineligible for the Spell. For games where there are no such methods of healing, it gives you an idea of exactly how destroyed the corpse is. The kind of damage matters as well. Going back to Joe Average, -10xHP means he's reached -100 HP (taken 110 points of damage). If the damage was mostly or entirely from a hail of arrows, his corpse is probably still recognizable. If it was from a violent mob beating him to death, he might be so messed up you'd need dental records or DNA testing... assuming such methods even exist. If Joe took the damage from, say, being in a burning building, there may not be any substantial remains. Exactly how much damage an attack does depends on a number of factors. GURPS has different damage types (crushing, cutting, impaling, piercing, burning, and a few others). When dealing with muscle-powered weaponry, how their used determines how your Strength (ST) deals damage: thrusting versus swinging. Where you are hit also matters; the same attack does more damage if it was aimed at vital organs than just your generic torso. Since I've gone on long enough already, let's assume Joe has average human Strength (ST), which is a score of 10. Joe kicking would only do 1d-2 damage. You don't do negative damage in GURPS, so a roll of 1 or 2 just result in zero damage being done, and since we're not worrying about hit location, critical hits, etc. then the most each kick would do is 4 damage. On the other hand, if Joe is using a 7.62 mm bolt-action rifle, he's rolling 7d for damage, and does at least 7 damage and upwards of 42 (again, we're ignoring hit location, armor, etc.). The average damage from 7d6 is 24.5, so even one "average" hit from that rifle could kill Joe, and three "average" hits can reach the automatic death threshold.
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Smooth Sailing
Even with high ability scores, proficiencies can be very important.

Reader Comments

I see Gwyneth hails from the school of thought that "everything is loot if you're not a coward."
Enemy's crumbling castle? A DIY real estate project just waiting to happen!
Terrifying ghost ship? Get an exorcist with a sailing qualification on board and sell it to a nation's navy!
Corpse of the enemy's minions? Look med students need to practice somewhere and they'll pay for the opportunity to not have to go grave robbing.
Short on time, but as usual, I read the comic, then think about how it would play out in GURPS. Then I go to write this and Suprise! When I thought things would play out almost exactly the same, there was a key difference this time. Most RPG systems are more similar than different when you look at their totality. Running the above scenario in GURPS, Chris would need to roll low instead of high (GURPS has you roll at or below the target number), but that isn't what caught me off guard. GURPS has you spend Character Points when buying Skills (instead of Ranks), but that's comparable and not what I was talking about.

GURPS handles attempts at doing something for which you have no training as defaults There are some things you can try just because you know how they're supposed to work. Either they're that simple in basic concept or they're common enough in society that you'd have had enough exposure to them that way. Other times, Skills can come with bonuses, and in case it didn't go without saying, sometimes Skills will cover situations where there wouldn't be a proper default. For example, GURPS lets you throw a punch with just a Dexterity (DX) roll. If you know the Brawling Skill, there's a small damage bonus and there are some techniques you either can't attempt without the Skill, or you can but at a much higher penalty. Brawling is an Easy Skill, so a single Character Point buys it at a Skill level equal to the controlling Attribute (in this case, Dexterity). There are other unarmed Combat Skills, though: Boxing, Karate, Judo, Sumo Wrestling, and Wrestling (off the top of my head). Note: While the names of the Skills reference real-world martial arts, that's mostly just a relic of the past. Each represents more advanced combat principles (with a decent chunk of overlap), so various other unarmed combat styles can and will include them. These Skills aren't as easy to learn as Brawling, and cost more Character Points to reach a comparable level of Skill, but they have more bonuses and grant access (or better access) to related combat techniques.

Getting back to flying a plane, Steve was actually in real trouble if we go by GURPS rules. Piloting is a Dexterity based Skill but it does not default to Dexterity. Keep in mind, even if it had, Steve would still likely be facing some penalties to his Skill. Piloting normally requires specialization in GURPS, like whether it is Piloting (Heavy Airplane), Piloting (Helicopter), Piloting (Light Airplane), etc. Given the nature of the setting, Chris might have been allowed to use an optional rule called Bang! Skills. Edit: Guess these are more commonly referred to as Wildcard Skills, now. The short version is that a whole bunch of closely related Skills are merged into one "big" Skill, denoted by adding an exclamation point to the end. For example, unarmed combat is Fist!, Driving would become Driving! and Piloting is simple Piloting! Steve would still face penalties for the nature of the planes; not only is he unlikely to have flown this exact model before, but even if he had, aren't these the ultra/super technology-based versions due to the Tesseract?

Yeah, still not done. The comic makes it clear that Steve doesn't know how to fly a plane, and while GURPS allows a default roll for piloting, it isn't based on Dexterity. Dexterity is a measure of hand-eye-coordination, quick movements, quick reflexes, etc. However, Piloting isn't what you'd call a "natural" Skill. Knowing how a plane works in theory or from watching someone else pilot is head knowledge. So Piloting defaults to IQ-6 in GURPS. To be clear, IQ stands for the "Intelligence" Attribute in GURPS, not the real-world "intelligence quotient", so that -6 is quite significant. The human default for IQ is 10; Steve seems to be above that, but not by much. Maybe IQ 11 or 12? So, even without any of the other penalties being applied, Chris is facing a difficult roll for Steve. Rolling a 6 or less (IQ 12 - 6) is a 9.3% chance when rolling three six-sided dice (how GURPS handles things). If Steve had a normal IQ 10, he'd be rolling against a 4 or less, which means only a 1.9% chance of success.

Unless it was all a typo in the actual, physical rule book. XD Which is possible, but I checked for errata...
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Sneaking In
And lo, we reach the start of the climactic final battle!

Reader Comments

This strip reminded me of a longstanding debate in the (tabletop) RPG community:

Who should roll what checks: GM or the player?

I won't be surprised if someone (including myself) brought this up earlier, but this reminded me of it again. XP

There are many times when just having the player roll tells them something is up. On the other hand, having the GM roll adds to the GM's workload and at least feels like it decreases player agency (whether it actually does or not). Personally, I'm uncertain as to where to draw the line. After all, savvy players can deduce a lot just from the most common of (tabletop RPG) actions, be they Perception checks, attack rolls, damage rolls, etc. Except for the times you (as the GM), want them to do some deductive reasoning like "Wait, I didn't get to make a Perception Check before that enemy suddenly appeared. I'm making all my attack rolls, and even rolling well for damage, but nothing is happening? Could it be an illusion? Nah, the enemy must a ghost!" ;)
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All According To Plan
Obviously, Schmidt was not originally designed with the idea of getting into a close-up fistfight with anyone near his actual level (literally or figuratively). Which means he has some pretty glaring design flaws.

This works out great for Steve, because otherwise his chance of succeeding on that Disarm would be somewhere between "slim" and "none".

Reader Comments

I'd assume the "flaws" were intentional, so that the players stood a chance. ;)

I touched upon Hit Points and the cumulative effects of injury in GURPS just a few strips ago, so I'm going to build on that. Especially as it applies to most games. Namely, that injuries add up. Even in the rare system that tracks injuries separately, you usually have to worry about some total injury threshold that drops (whether permanently or temporarily) your character. Schmit's backstory is that he's also a super-soldier with peak or near peak human performance. Uh... drawing attention to that because, while it is indeed the canon of the films, it isn't (or at least wasn't ) the canon for the comic books. Unarmed combat seems to exist in this kind of uncanny valley where what is realistic (or at least plausible) isn't always clear.

I guess I'll also reference the Man Plus (a.k.a. Generic Super Soldier) template I posted at the beginning of this arc. In GURPS terms, "peak human" is usually ST 20. Skipping the crunchy bits to get to the result, that means Schmidt's punching damage is at least 2d-2 (GURPS always uses six-sided dice). Why at least? Besides critical hits, many unarmed combat skills provide a bonus to unarmed damage. Schmidt's ego may be such that he hasn't bothered with any such training, but even something like the Brawling Skill can be learned by just being in enough fights. If Schmidt indulges a lot and spends 4 Character Points (CP) on it, he gets to do +1 damage per die of damage from punching, kicking, headbutting, etc. So... it could be 2d. If Schmidt has the Boxing Skill, he gets the same bonus for the same cost. The Boxing Skill in GURPS covers different things than Brawling, so there's no bonus to kicking damage, biting, headbutting, etc. Boxing is also an "Average" Skill, while Brawling is an "Easy" one. So, why take Boxing? 4 CP buys Brawling at two levels above your base Dexterity score (DX+2), but only DX+1 for Boxing. You have to invest 8 CP into Boxing to get it to DX+2... but if you do, then you get +2 per die damage for punching. That means his punches would do 2d+2 damage!

Humans in GURPS have an average of 10 HP. If Schmidt knows Boxing at DX+2, doing 2d+2 damage with his punches, and hits your average, unarmored human in the torso without scoring a Critical Success, Schmidt is doing at least enough damage to break a rib (or inflict another, comparable injury). Max damage would not be enough to force a normal person to roll a Death Check, but it would injure them enough that they would have to start rolling versus their Health (HT) to see if they can stay conscious, and even if they make it, their Move and Dodge are halved. Two average damage punches would equate to one at max damage. Of course, Steve is also a Super Soldier, and thus should have peak human HP of 20. Steve also has armor, and the suggested "Super Alloy Chainmail" from that template was meant to represent comic book Cap's "super tech" version of chainmail armor. Not sure what he actually has in the film, or what Golden Age Captain America was sporting. The short version is that... it actually should be enough to stop most of the damage from Schmidts punches. In fact, to do any damage, even with Boxing at DX+2, requires referencing the rules GURPS has for blunt trauma through flexible armor. Blunt trauma only applies when an attack does not penetrate flexible armor (so if even one point of actual damage makes it through, you don't apply blunt trauma). For Schmidt's punches, every 10 points of damage he rolls still results in 1 HP of injury to Cap. Way lower stakes than the film makes it feel like, but I don't think Marvel Cinematic Universe Cap has as good of armor as that template gives, and there are more advanced combat options that can increase Schmidt's unarmed damage. I mean, I think that one punch was to the face, and yeah, GURPS has rules for that. XD
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